Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has finally admitted that the crisis in the NHS is “completely unacceptable”. But that’s not good enough. After seven years running the NHS down, the Government can’t pretend it’s nothing to do with them.
We’ve seen it on TV, with shocking reports from across the country. My constituents tell me about it too – both those who use the NHS and those who work in it. In my recent community consultation, the Big Conversation, I heard about growing problems – from getting GP appointments, to young people waiting six months for support with mental health problems.
The pictures of patients stacked up in hospital corridors took me back to 1997. After 18 years of a Tory Government running down the NHS, we became used to scenes like that. The NHS was broken.
But Labour fixed it. We trebled spending on the NHS, bringing it back to the European average. More doctors, more nurses, new hospitals, new medical centres – and it worked. When Labour left power public satisfaction with the NHS was at its highest.
I make these points not to praise the Labour Government, but to show that the current crisis is not inevitable. It is the result of political choices. Last time it took the Tories 18 years to break the NHS, but this time just seven.
Of course because of the banking crash money is tight and there are difficult decisions. But the Government is making the wrong ones.
Every millionaire in Britain is £100,000 a year better off from tax breaks. The richest 200,000 are gaining from cuts to capital gains tax. Higher income earners are getting big tax handouts. Corporation tax has been slashed. These are political choices, taking away money that could be used for the NHS.
Starving councils of the funds for social care was a choice too, and it’s added hugely to the pressures on GPs and hospitals. Turning on doctors, provoking strikes, and undermining their morale was another mistake. So was cutting nurses’ and midwives’ bursaries. I warned it would create a recruitment crisis and last week we saw a 25 per cent fall in applications.
The Government need to recognise that they’ve created this and only they can resolve it.