David Cameron’s desperation about the election is illustrated by panicked and pie-in-the-sky promises of tax cuts, especially for the better off. And Cameron can neither acknowledge the reality of his record on the NHS nor will the means to enhance the NHS.
The future of the NHS in Tory hands will be the centrepiece of the General Election in seven months’ time. No wonder the Conservatives have tried to downplay the issue. Waiting lists have soared to more than three million people. The national target for cancer treatment has been missed for the first time.
Medical experts such as NHS England also estimate that we face a shortfall of about £30bn in the next seven years because the share of health spending is falling. Furthermore, medical inflation affects the NHS more due to the higher cost of treatments and equipment. None of that is helped by madcap policies that force hospitals and other NHS units to compete rather than cooperate with each other in the futile effort to impose market models on the NHS. In addition to billions spent on a top down organisation the Tories specifically promised they would avoid, millions are being wasted on tendering for services.
Experience around the world shows that health is best done on a collective basis but change is always necessary to align its services with new demographic realities. The NHS originally catered for people who sadly had little time between retirement often from hard manual labour and death.
Thankfully, that is changing. The number of people over 80 will double and the population as a whole will rise by four million people in coming years. However, it has put huge strains on social care and increased, for example, the number of elderly people in hospital care when they should be in residential homes or well looked after in their own homes.
We should integrate the NHS and a national caring service. Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham rightly says there would be “one service, one team, one person to call.”
Integration will save money but there will be an initial cost and it cannot be done overnight. But I am very pleased that Labour is willing the means to fund what it calls the Time to Care Fund which would increase NHS capacity by recruiting 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 new home-care workers and 3,000 new midwives by 2020. The money would come from a Mansion Tax on homes worth £2m or more plus reining in tax evasion and tapping tobacco profits.
I also support the campaign to stop the privatisation of the NHS which includes Clive Efford’s Private Member’s Bill in the Commons. Many dedicated people outside Parliament are doing their bit to defend and improve the NHS. The recent People’s March by Darlo Mums against the creeping privatisation of the NHS shows that British people are passionate about defending the principle of free care at the point of need.
And local people are seeking to improve cancer services now. The Fighting All Cancers Together (Fact) charity, of which I am a Patron, is seeking to open the country’s first cancer support, awareness and education centre on the site of the former Dunston School.
The centre would support people diagnosed with cancer and also their families, carers and friends. There is currently no other centre in the region offering such support. FACT already provides much needed advice on practical issues such as finance, employment, child care, exercise, nutrition, and travel insurance.
The pioneers of this initiative say that people respond better to offers of support in gentle, non-clinical environments but would also work with medical professionals in delivering support and in line with guidelines and legislation.
There is a wide need for this given that every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer nationwide, and more so in the North East. You can contact me on 0191 414 2488 or firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how to help and about their campaign launch in Gateshead on 20 October. The NHS will surely be uppermost in the debates of the next few months.
Dave Anderson is the Labour MP for Blaydon