I of course share your concerns that key NHS targets are reportedly set to be scrapped. Patients are repeatedly being let down by a Government which has spent nine years underfunding the NHS, imposing the biggest cash squeeze in its history and cutting public health and social care budgets.
Waiting lists are at 4.3 million, more than 500,000 patients are waiting beyond 18 weeks for treatment, and 2.5 million people are waiting more than four hours in A&E. The Government’s mandate to NHS England for 2018-19 has already confirmed that flagship waiting times targets for planned and emergency care have been abandoned for another year. The mandate issues no objective for the 18-week referral to treatment target, nor the four-hour A&E target, to be met during the year.
The NHS Long-Term Plan, published recently, includes welcome ambitions to improve care for patients over the next ten years. However, it contains no credible plan to restore the statutory standards of care that patients are entitled to, as outlined in the NHS constitution. These standards were routinely met between 1997-2010. However, desperate underfunding and cuts since 2010 mean those constitutional standards will not be achieved as part of the long-term plan.
Despite the brilliant efforts of NHS staff, who work tirelessly in the face of increasing pressures, years of pay restraint and a failure to invest in and plan appropriately for the workforce has resulted in more than 100,000 staff vacancies. The Government promised a long-term workforce plan alongside the NHS plan, yet Ministers have not set out how the additional staff will be recruited to deliver its ambitions.
At the last General Election, I stood on a manifesto with a commitment to fully fund the NHS and secure sustainable future funding for the social care sector. It also offered a long-term workforce plan to ensure safe staffing levels and to give staff the support they need. This would have secured the standards of service to which patients are legally entitled and prevented the routine breach of safe levels of bed occupancy.
I will press Ministers at every opportunity to bring forward a sustainable funding settlement to provide the quality care patients deserve and prevent the routine breach of standards.