Jon Ashworth at Socialist Health Association AGM Sat 11 March 2017

Labour Health Policy

Jon Ashworth MP Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Health addressed the meeting and took questions. He has been in role for 5 months – shares Bevan’s vision of the NHS. Health Service dominates many issues in British politics. Its not only fair but an efficient service.

NHS is being pushed to the brink of disaster – the Red Cross has spoken of a humanitarian disaster, Sir Robert Francis QC has warned financial and demand pressures on the NHS have created an environment in which a care scandal equal to that at Mid Staffordshire is “inevitable”. Ashworth reports that next years Tory NHS funding will be even tighter. Recent Budget allocations to the NHS health and social care are dwarfed by the scale of cuts these services are undergoing… (with the possible exception of Social Care funding for Surrey!)

He recognises that the NHS needs funding increases of about 4% a year simply to stand still. Previous Labour governments did better. The issue of staffing too is getting desperate – nursing bursary needs to be restored and pay restrictions must be lifted – overseas workers play an indispensible role in the NHS and must be supported.

The Lansley Health and Social Care act needs to be undone – the NHS re-instatement bill is a useful way of challenging it in principle but may not be the best tactic.

The government response is effectively to suspend waiting time targets for a year!

The meeting comprised health campaigners and members who had been involved in running the NHS in Wales who stressed the NHS should not only be free at the point of use but should be publicly provided and that the role of the voluntary sector should not be to provide core health services as part of a competitive tendering process.

Ashworth believes that the scale of the cuts proposed by the Sustainability and Transformation Plans were undeliverable politically and that the most the Tories might achieve is a few pilot STPs or Accountable Care Organisations which might be open to privatisation. He supported campaigners challenging the STPs and appealed for assistance in analysing the proposed impact of STPs on local health systems.

For the future the LP needs to consider resources for expenditure on the NHS and Social Care. This will be an important debate in the labour movement.

The SHA is currently producing a Green Paper (consultation document) on future Labour policy on the NHS which it hopes to use to stimulate debate on the future of the service in the labour movement and among people generally. This will be an important outreach initiative – the SHA plans to build a strong membership base among new LP activists.

ACTIONS – step up campaigning, feedback responses to STPs, lookout for SHA Green Paper and use it to stimulate debate … join the SHA!