People in the North West and across the country love the NHS. Invariably, our experience of the NHS is very good and we appreciate the care and expertise of health staff. On Saturday, I shall be attending the Picnic in the Park in Urmston, Trafford, to celebrate the NHS’s 66th birthday.
But these are the hardest days for the NHS. There has been a barrage of negative media stories about the service as part of a concerted effort to erode public support for its principles. I think we need to be clear about the causes of the problems in the NHS.
Firstly, the NHS is being starved of adequate funding. The King’s Fund has reported that health spending is projected to fall from nearly 8% of GDP to barely 6% by the end of the decade. This is a historic cut in the funding of health services. Even senior Tories and former members of the Coalition Government have now warned that the NHS is on the brink of collapse without better funding.
Secondly, the Health and Social Care Act has marketised the NHS to an unprecedented level. For over 30 years, successive Governments have chipped away at the cement holding the blocks of the NHS together. With the Health and Social Care Act, the Cameron Government has pushed over the institutional architecture of the NHS.
We are seeing private healthcare providers wanting to cherry pick services and legally challenging commissioners who keep services in the NHS. We are seeing more provision in NHS hospitals for private-paying patients, marking a return to the days of queue-jumping by those who pay and longer waits for everybody else. We are also seeing cash-strapped trusts seeking to cut costs through privatising what they call ‘back-office’ functions.
Thirdly, NHS workers are being treated disgracefully badly. The last year has seen the continued denigration of NHS workers. Morale is at rock-bottom. NHS staff are under-appreciated and underpaid. Their pay has fallen by 10% in real terms over recent years, and now they have been told that the Government will not even pay the 1% increase recommended by the Pay Review Body. This marks a new low in the Government’s treatment of public sector workers.
These are crucial months for our NHS. Its very existence is at stake. We have to be strong in our belief that the principles of the NHS are sound. The problems it currently faces are due to a move away from those principles. The NHS needs proper funding, the marketeers and profiteers need to be thrown out, and the staff need to be properly appreciated and rewarded. With these changes we can continue to have a free, high quality, directly-provided health service for future generations.