Developing Labour health and care policies

Socialist Health Association

Supporting the Labour health team was what the Socialist Medical Association was set up to do.  It was our President, Somerville Hastings, who proposed the resolution at the Labour Party conference in Southport in 1934 to establish a National Health Service.  We’re proud of that moment.  And we’re proud that our resolution on the future of the NHS was passed at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this year.  But it took twelve years from 1934 to actually establish the NHS.  You can read an account on our website.  Passing resolutions at conference is necessary but not sufficient.  I don’t know exactly what happened in 1934, but I do know that the resolution passed in September was cobbled together in a smoke-free room in Brighton on a Sunday night.  We can’t leave it there.  We need to develop our ideas.  And we don’t want the process to take 12 years.

It was Tony Blair who claimed in 1997 that we had 24 hours to save the NHS and campaigners have been making similar claims ever since. It was never quite clear what we were saving it from, nor whether it had been saved.  These campaigns go down very well with Labour supporters, but they don’t seem to have the political impact we need with uncommitted voters.  Although the NHS has been missing more and more targets the experience of most patients, most of the time, is still positive. No charges have been introduced, and nobody influential seems to be suggesting that they should.  The 95% target in A&E departments has been missed every month since December 2015, but even in the worst places more than 70% of patients are usually seen within 4 hours. Waiting times for elective surgery have been rising steadily, but there hasn’t been a huge increase in private health insurance. Most patients in England are treated within six months.  Things are clearly getting worse, but the real disaster area is not the NHS but social care.  And the NHS is in much worse shape in Northern Ireland.

If we are going to campaign effectively in the places where it matters – marginal constituencies – we clearly need to highlight the decline in standards, the moves to privatise services, the magical thinking which is behind most of the plans for NHS “transformation”. It’s obvious that we need more money and more staff.  But we also need a positive vision of what we would do with more resources, and it needs to include social care as well as health.

Even Jeremy Hunt seems to accept that the era of markets and competition has ground to a halt.  We suddenly have the possibility of a radical Labour government.  Developing a better care system based on public services in a way that commands support from electors but is actually deliverable is hard.  We’ve started on a process of policy development and we need now to work with Labour nationally and locally to produce a credible vision of the future of health and care. All this talk about devolution and transformation gives us opportunities not just to campaign against what is proposed but also to argue for the services we want to see, and possibly in some places to actually begin to develop them.

We need help to develop our ideas.  There could be an election at any time in the next four years and we need to be ready.  We’ve agreed a short summary of our position but we now want to hear from people who can contribute ideas.