Our NHS is truly in a crisis. Despite the best efforts of our amazing healthcare professionals, patients are now bearing the brunt of hospital closures, longer waiting times and bed shortages. The marketisation of healthcare by successive Governments has left us with a fragmented NHS, and consistent underfunding from the Tories has left services under immense pressure. Add to that the deep demoralisation of NHS staff whose wages have been capped and contracts forcibly changed - and a clear picture of desperation emerges. Something clearly has to shift.
The NHS doesn't just need saving, it needs refitting for the 21st Century. At the core of such a plan must be ridding the health service of the web of private companies that are sucking resources away from patient care. It simply cannot be right that firms like Virgin Healthcare are skimming profit from our NHS while patient care suffers.
A 21st Century health service must also be fully resourced. For a start that must mean closing the NHS funding gap - and spending a higher proportion of our GDP on healthcare. But we should also look to end the glaring injustice of charging people for prescriptions in England. Though prescriptions were free when the NHS was founded, charges came in very quickly afterwards. Prescriptions are free for all in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but England is lagging behind. Put simply: The Government is fining people who need medication.
These charges aren't just unfair - they also cost the NHS money as people don't take the medicines they need and can become sicker as a result. An Ipsos Mori survey found that 800,000 people failed to collect a prescription because of the cost. And an Asthma UK survey found 34% of people who have to pay for asthma medication sometimes choose not to get all their prescriptions for financial reasons.
The Green Party would scrap these fees for everyone - and pay for such a move by ending the costly internal market in the health service. We would also boost the role of community pharmacies, who face deep cuts from the Government.
An innovative clinically focussed community pharmacy service is essential and can play key role in reducing pressures on GPs and rest of health service. Research conducted by the National Pharmacy Association showed that two in three people use a pharmacy at least once per month and that 36% of the adult population has received advice from a pharmacist in the past six months. Cuts to these services will cost us dearly in the long term.
An NHS that is truly free at the point of use must include cost-free provision of medicine for everyone, and a network of local pharmacies so everyone has access to advice from trained pharmacists.
But healthcare isn't just about treating the sick, it's also about stopping people getting ill in the first place. That's why we must also be looking closely at the causes of ill-health, and promoting policies to ensure fewer people require medical attention. Take air pollution as an example. 40,000 people's lives are cut short by the filthy air crisis - costing the economy £20billion. Any Government serious about helping people live healthier lives would be tackling this problem at source by phasing out diesel vehicles, and ploughing resources into cleaner forms of transport.
There is no quick fix for the health crisis hitting our country, but solutions are out there for those wishing to find them. Five more years of the Tories could crush the NHS - whilst Green MPs in Parliament will push for a health service fit for the challenges of the future - and to bring back the principle of a public NHS that's genuinely free at the point of use. Britain is the world's fifth biggest economy and we can afford a top class health service - but on 8 June we need to elect MPs willing to fight for it.
Caroline Lucas is co-leader of the Green Party and the party's candidate for Brighton PavilionSuggest a correction