The Tories Are Ripping The Heart Out Of Our NHS

We found out in July that Jeremy Hunt will continue to be the Secretary of State for Health in Theresa May’s Cabinet.

Since I had the honour of becoming Labour’s shadow health secretary, I have pressed Hunt on the problems facing our NHS, but he has had few answers from the barrage of cross-bench concern at various parliamentary debates on NHS funding and the impact of Brexit on the NHS.

When asked what he was doing to ensure that the NHS gets the £350 million a week that it was promised during the Leave referendum campaign, Hunt said: “I am a little stumped, because I was never really sure whether we would see that money.”

The government’s health policy is increasingly incoherent. The Leave half of the government has been promising millions of extra pounds to the health service while the Remain side knows full well that that money will be unavailable as it responds to the economic concerns regarding Brexit by steadfastly carrying on with austerity.Clearly this does little for morale in the NHS, which is already near rock bottom due to Tory cuts to the service.

Yet for the last six years the Conservative Party had sold the myth of austerity, promising that that cutting public services would “save money,” rather than choke off a sustainable economic recovery, squeeze the living stands of the majority and put our poorest citizens through unnecessary misery. The NHS is a big casualty of austerity. The public accounts committee said in May that nationally the NHS is short of 50,000 front-line staff and the government is driving through £22 billion in cuts by 2020, which has pushed hospitals and A&E departments to the brink of failure.

Last week’s junior doctors’ rejection of the government’s contract is just the tip of the iceberg. Anger at the government’s neglect of NHS staff and patients goes deep among both NHS workers and the public.
In that dispute, it has not helped that the government is treating junior doctors like the enemy within. It has not helped their morale to imply that the only barrier to a seven-day NHS is their reluctance to work weekends, when so many of them are already working unsocial hours, sacrificing their family lives in the process.

To mark the anniversary of the NHS as Labour’s proudest creation, I recently visited my local hospital, the Homerton University Hospital, and met some of the wonderful nurses. One of their main concerns was the abolition of the bursary, but they were also genuinely worried that NHS staff were no longer valued. Take, for example, the area of nursing. Indeed, an early 2016 report showed that one in 10 nursing positions are not filled, and low staff morale can only make this worse.

To make this worse, from next year, the government plans to scrap bursaries. It will fund nurse training through loans instead of grants to create an “open market” that will remove the NHS’s ability to place nurses where there is demand.

This government’s actions are the complete opposite what is needed to address the current recruitment crisis. And with one in three nurses over 50 and set to retire in coming years, the NHS has no long-term plan.But the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party is not just about opposing the Tories’ failed policies of austerity. It’s also about setting our sights higher about the type of society we want.

We can do this with an economic policy that is not based on cuts, but instead invests to grow our economy.This will enable us to create good jobs and pay, build homes, provide public transport and provide quality public services for all, including our NHS.

For this reason I have been delighted to support for the Ten Minute Rule Bill introduced by my colleague Margaret Greenwood MP.

The central proposition of the NHS Reinstatement Bill is self-explanatory. It will have the effect of restoring parliamentary and ministerial accountability for the NHS. Amazingly, the Secretary of State for Health has no statutory responsibility for the NHS under current legislation.

This is not simply because the Tories, and Hunt in particular, find it more convenient to not be held accountable for the growing problems of the NHS — although that is probably regarded by them as a happy spin-off. The main Tory rationale is that undermining the NHS makes it more chaotic and more susceptible to denationalisation and privatisation. After all, this was the government that promised to protect the NHS, yet waiting times have soared. This is the government that talked about putting clinicians and staff first, yet provoked the first all-out strike by junior doctors in the history of the NHS.

In contrast to this approach, it is extremely important to restore parliamentary accountability and in effect to renationalise the NHS.Of course no-one wants yet another top-down reorganisation. NHS professionals and staff who I speak to hold up their hands in horror at the prospect. The NHS has already had more than one reorganisation too many. But at the same time it is, or ought to be, a fundamental principle that the political oversight of any public service must itself be accountable and subject to scrutiny from the elected representatives of the population. This is no less true for the NHS, which is one of our most vital services, and which commands such large public resources.Under the Tories, there has been top-down reorganisation, services have not been not protected, staff morale is at rock-bottom and measured performance continues to deteriorate. This is the chaos they have introduced.

Labour stands for the opposite. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour will have no truck with Tory plans for break-up and privatisation of the NHS. Instead, we will develop plans to strengthen and improve the NHS and oppose all damaging cuts.