Labour can unite against Jeremy Hunt’s dangerous NHS plans

Labour Party

Last week in Parliament the Labour Party was united in attacking the latest Tory attack on the NHS. The mechanisms of the attack are technical-sounding Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). In reality these are Secret Tory Plans to decimate the NHS and Labour is determined to fight them.

There is no dispute in Labour about the importance of the NHS, which remains the most cherished in the country. Labour established the NHS. It needs defending from this Tory Government like never before.

STPs are primarily financial mechanisms to impose cuts, “control totals” in the Tory jargon. STPs will bring together trusts and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). In part this is an unavoidable repair to the damage caused by Andrew Lansley’s own Health and Social Care Act, which all the Tories supported. But the new STPs will inherit the debts of all the trusts and groups. Typically these run into hundreds of millions of pounds. In a few STPs the projected debts are more than £1bn and for Greater Manchester STP the deficit is expected to be £2bn by the end of this Parliament.

STPs have to close these deficits with cuts. Except for a few leaks the plans themselves remain secret, without publication or consultation or evidence, but the consequences of the plans have already become apparent with announcements of the closure of key departments and hospitals throughout the country.

The plans are based on expectations that veer from the ridiculous to the scandalous. We are told a mobile phone app will reduce the growing demands on the NHS caused by obesity. The most vulnerable and elderly are expected to use Skype in doctor consultations, risking humiliation and misdiagnosis. In the case of one plan in north west London which has been leaked, there will be fewer acute beds in six years’ time than now despite a projected increase in population and its ageing.

The NHS is a universal service and can only survive if it stays that way. But we know that the poorest, the most vulnerable and the elderly are the biggest users of the NHS.  They are the least likely to have smartphones or Skype access, or be comfortable with using them. They are going to be the biggest losers from the latest Tory reorganisation of the NHS. Everyone will lose in terms of waiting times and access.

As shadow Secretary for State, I led the assault on these hugely damaging plans in parliament. Campaigners such as 38 Degrees and Open Democracy are raising public awareness and making life uncomfortable for Tory backbenchers. Colleagues from all wings of the party were united in flaying the Tories for the effects of these ferocious Tory cuts.

This is only the beginning of this battle. Public anger about the closures of beds, units, departments and whole hospitals throughout the country will only rise. A united Labour Party will stand up for them and stand against Tory plans to decimate the NHS.