Tory marginal MPs facing electoral axe because of NHS crises in their patch


This was first published by Open Democracy.

A chill electoral wind is gathering strength. Public anger and revulsion at what the Tories have done to the NHS with their pro-privatisation agenda could end the tenure of David Cameron in Downing Street.

Not one Tory MP voted against the pro-privatisation Health and Social Care Bill. Now, Unite says, the chickens are coming home to roost. Several Tory MPs could lose their marginal seats because of what is happening to the NHS in or near their constituencies. These include George Eustice, David Cameron’s ex-spin doctor, who has a wafer-thin majority of just 66 in Cambourne and Redruth. Public health minister Anna Soubry, who was on the committee that scrutinised the bill, is also clinging onto her Nottinghamshire seat of Broxtowe by 389 votes.

New research from Unite union, titled NHS critical in Tory marginals, has highlighted 11 tight marginal seats: Amber Valley, Brighton Kempton, Broxtowe, Cambourne & Redruth, Lancaster & Fleetwood, Lincoln, Morecambe & Lunesdale, North Warwickshire, Sherwood, Thurrock, andTruro & Falmouth.

But don’t just take the word of the country’s largest union. Tory grandee Lord Ashcroft finances in-depth polling on behalf of the Conservative party. His latest poll interviewed 12,809 people in the 40 most marginal Tory-held seats between 1 August and 5 September. Interviews were also conducted in seats where Labour and the Liberal Democrats were the runners up in 2010.  The polling revealed that the NHS is the second most important issue for voters after “jobs and the economy.” It’s even more important in the 40 key Tory marginals that Ed Miliband must take back to win a majority. Labour is ranked twice as likely to improve the NHS as the Tories.

The fact that at least 55,000 people marched through Manchester on the Save our NHS rally at the start of the Conservative party conference on Sunday (29 September) is firm evidence of mounting public concern about the plight of the NHS.

It should not be forgotten that there was no mention of plans for the biggest overhaul of the NHS in the 2010 Tory manifesto. Or that within three months of government the then health secretary, Andrew Lansley, had come up with legislation that is now handing over great swathes of the NHS to the likes of Richard Branson and other private healthcare operators. The electorate has never wanted to turn over Aneurin Bevan’s 1948 creation – promising universal free healthcare at the point of delivery to all those in need – to the aggressive and predatory instincts of the market.

Tory MPs voted for the pernicious Health and Social Care Act in droves. If those same MP were to campaign locally against the very cuts to the NHS that Lansley’s legalisation imposes, their actions would smack of hypocrisy.

The Act is a systematic failure by a government that is imposing right-wing dogma on the NHS for the benefit of private healthcare companies, some of whom bankroll the Tory party.

In the meantime NHS staff, demoralised by job cuts and constant reorganisation, do their very best to meet the ever-increasing demands on the health service.

Unite research has uncovered shocking examples of areas in which the NHS – which had record public satisfaction levels under the last government – has deteriorated:

  • – At one point an average of ten ambulances per day were stuck waiting to deliver patients to the Royal Cornwall Hospital’s emergency department
  • – Darent Valley Hospital was closed to admissions for six and a half hours on 3 January, and ambulances had to be diverted to other hospitals
  • – Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is currently understaffed in its A&E departments
  • – King’s Mill Hospital, found to have given women suffering from breast cancer faulty test results, prioritised money over patient care, according a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report
  • Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust has been named as the worst in England after patients were found to be waiting more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E

Unite’s report said: “In eleven of the most marginal Conservative seats the NHS is becoming associated with an intense period of crisis.

“In all eleven of the seats, local hospitals or trusts have serious staffing shortages, which is having a clear impact on patient care.

“Six of the constituencies are close to one of the eleven high profile hospitals that have been put under special measures for poor performance and high mortality rates: North Warwickshire, Sherwood, Broxtowe, Amber Valley, Thurrock and Lincoln.

“Five of the constituencies are linked to hospitals that Monitor – regulator for health services in England – regard as having a high risk of financial failure: Sherwood, Broxtowe, Lancaster and Fleetwood, Morecombe and Lunesdale, and Amber Valley.

“Six are also close to hospitals that have Monitor’s highest warning for poor governance.”

The research shows that the impact of outsourcing NHS services to private companies has created problems and negative publicly in three areas – Truro and Falmouth, Cambourne and Redruth, and North Warwickshire.

It proves that the government’s NHS reorganisation has been a disaster, with patient care under threat across England. The Act needs to be repealed by a future Labour government, as already promised by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, and the damage that the Tories have created has to be reversed.