‘Our country loves the NHS’, it’s a statement which couldn't be closer to a fact.
It’s near impossible to find someone in Britain who has not been helped in some way by the NHS; whether it was them, a family member or a friend, the NHS helps all people from the youngest to the oldest daily and consistently the institution is regarded in surveys as one of the greatest pillars of our country and a shining light for all that is great about Britain. And yet our fantastic NHS is in a crisis which in many ways is unprecedented.
This week we’ve had the announcements of further planned strikes by junior doctors in the upcoming months, showing that Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a forced contract has not put this issue to bed.
These strikes are incredibly disappointing but they have been brought on by the continuing inability of the Government to listen to the concerns of doctors, which is heart-wrenching. Jeremy Hunt is not a stupid man, and the Department of Health is not out of control and Hunt very much knows what he’s doing and knows where he wants to take our beloved NHS.
The current Government has a clear agenda for the NHS, one which has a course set for wilful neglect by underfunding.
Hunt is pushing doctors and nurses to breaking point, deliberately vetoing agreements made between NHS executives and the BMA and leaking information to the press before the doctors. His intentions to impose a draconian contract which has caused controversies over pay has led junior doctors into a situation where they believe strike action is the only solution, allowing the right-wing tabloids to present doctors as selfish people who are putting people’s livesat sake for their own gain.
Hunt has also picked a specific fight against a BMA (which has belligerently dug in and put up a huge, emotive fight) to draw attention away from the deep wounds running through our health service currently. GPs are in the midst of their own crisis where surgeries are under-equipped and staff are over-worked. Cameron’s dream of a seven-day working NHS, which currently occurs in some form already, appears a joke when out of hours GPs are unable to cover huge chunks of the country adequately.
Furthermore, the scandal of mental health being given a lesser status in our health service continues, despite the fantastic work by my Lib Dem colleague Norman Lamb in the last Government, and recent figures from Mental Health Trusts across the country, revealed by the Lib Dems, show us that serious incidents are increasing. Issues like these should be what keeps our Government up at night and should be what they are focussing on saving; instead the Government sits back and watches destabilisation of our NHS; an unforgivable action.
To be fair to the Conservatives, in many ways they are following on from what was brought in under the Blair and Brown Governments where the semi-privatisation of our health service started quietly through the Private Finance Initiatives, which outsources the building and running of hospitals to the private sector at an enormous eventual cost to the taxpayer, with PFI costing the NHS £2 billion this year alone.
This has accelerated recently and the Department for Health has tried to remove itself from the responsibility of our health system. The creation of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were organisations which were created to help address the changes our NHS must make, but as a result of the Tories severe underfunding of the NHS, they have now been used as a way of passing the buck by the Government to force the CCGs to make difficult decisions with their strained budgets.
When I hear from distraught junior doctors saying that they’re considering emigrating to find a better health service to work in where they feel more comfortable, or on a Saturday morning in Wallington hear a doctor working in A&E expressing serious concerns about his future salary, and when I see the reports of increasingly high numbers of consultants, nurses and GPs saying that they’re considering retiring early from the NHS as they’re finding themselves overworked and disillusioned by their jobs, it makes me realise that we need to act now.
Jeremy Hunt has simply lost the trust of the people in the NHS, as a result weakening the backbone of our NHS and when a backbone is lost then what it holds up will disintegrate. We can’t let that happen and that is why I, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, have signed a petition calling for Hunt to resign. Desperate times in our history need desperate measures and we must see a fundamental change in the way our NHS is being run.
Our NHS isn’t safe in the hands of the Tories or Labour, who have, as I said, started many of the problems we currently face; now all we have is a Labour party happy to criticise the Government and support junior doctors but incapable of putting forward a vision for the future.
We must admit that there are fundamental aspects of the NHS which need adapting to meet changing demand and that we must admit that in its current state, the NHS risks becoming unaffordable. We can’t however allow the Tories to continue increasing the pressure on our health services and instead we need sensible discussions, involving all parties, conducted in a mature and independent manner.
That is what the Lib Dems have acknowledged and I am very happy to support the Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb’s call for an independent commission to be created to come up with a solution for what path our NHS can take. We’ve all got to realise that our NHS is changing but our NHS must not be forced down the route which Jeremy Hunt and the Tories want to take.