The news is full of stories about Accident & Emergency departments unable to cope. Sheffield has held up well, but even here people have had operations postponed due to a shortage of hospital beds.
However, the crisis in the NHS is not just about A&E and hospitals. There are deeper problems in health care as a whole. As the Green Party health spokesperson and a general practitioner for 25 years, I suggest three solutions.
Firstly, we must stop privatising the NHS. Private companies drain profits from the public purse and fragment services. Poorly people do not want competition and choice, they want good services in a nearby health centre or hospital. The culture of pricing and targets and the use of protocols and call centres makes it harder for professionals to focus on the particular needs of individual patients. No wonder staff morale is low and patients are frustrated by being referred from pillar to post.
Secondly, any extra money for the NHS – and the Green Party would spend more on public services – must help boost community care. Many people go to A&E because they can’t get a GP appointment. Others end up in hospital through lack of help at home.
Investing in good medical and social care, close to home, would save expensive hospital admissions and be better for patients and their families.
The proportion of NHS funding for GPs has dropped from 11 per cent in 2005 to 8 per cent now. Some health centres in the poorest parts of Sheffield even face closure because the government is withdrawing their income guarantee. Meanwhile, the city council, which provides social care, has had its budget cut by a quarter since the coalition Government came to power.
Finally, we must tackle the root causes of ill health. Unemployment, stress, fuel poverty and lack of good food and exercise all play their part. Living in a very unequal society is not good for anyone, including the wealthiest 1 per cent, who consume more than they need and more than the planet can sustain. So introducing a wealth tax and investing in useful jobs like improving housing and public transport, would help everyone and reduce pressure on the NHS.