So the Health and Social Care Bill has achieved Royal Assent today and has become the Health and Social Care Act. And yes - despite Andy Burnham's claims that there were 24 hours to save the NHS last week- the NHS is still here. He said pretty much the same back in October 2011, claiming there were then 72 hours to save the NHS. Five months on, it seems that he has become the boy who cried wolf.
In contrast, the NHS seems very much alive and well: figures released last week show that there are more frontline professional staff working in the health service than ever before. Compared to May 2010, there are now over 4,000 more doctors and over 900 more midwives in the NHS. In contrast, the number of admin staff and managers has fallen by over 15,000, creating savings that will be reinvested into frontline patient care.
Opposition for opposition's sake is fine, but it comes at a cost. That cost is credibility. For in setting himself full square against the Health Bill, Burnham now has nowhere to hide. In desperation, he has now even begun to oppose the £20 billion of efficiency savings that he himself ordered in the QIPP programme as Health Secretary, handing in a petition to the Department of Health against "£20billion of 'unmandated' cuts". They were 'mandated' by none other than Burnham himself.
If anything has died, it has been Burnham's Blarite soul. Others in the party tried to save it-- Peter Watt, the party's former General Secretary warned earlier this week that Labour and Burnham were placing themselves against reform and risked looking only backwards, not forwards, stating that "Labour said that it was the end of the NHS... they went for a full on blood curdling 'it's all over' message. But if in 12 or 24 months people are still attending their GP surgery; still having outpatient appointments; still able to attend the A&E Department and still having babies supported by midwives then it will be hard to persuade them that the NHS is no more.
And Labour will look like it has been hysterical. In fact at that point the government will simply point out that the last Labour government introduced more competition, choice and private sector providers. Which risks making Labour look opportunistic in its attacks."
Watt continues: "Labour must now move on to pastures new or it risks its health policy being charcaterised as simply one of introducing another top-down reorganisation, namely the dismantling of the structures put in place by the Health and Social Care Act (2012)... back to the future is hardly an inspirational rallying cry in a key policy area for Labour. Instead it needs to begin to set out what its vision for the NHS is."
And yet we now know that Burnham's single policy offer is to repeal the Bill, stating in parliament that "I can at least say this: we will repeal this legislation at the first opportunity".
Labour claimed that the Bill would threaten the biggest re-organisation in the NHS's history; if that were even true (despite the fact that New Labour's own Health adviser Julian Le Grand admitting that they would have likely happened under Blair), Burnham now wishes to commit himself to the biggest re-reorganisation ever, returning to the world of middle management, the PCT, the SHA.
We must admit that the NHS needs to adapt under new pressures, pressures that it never faced in the twentieth century. We know that demand is rising in the NHS faster than it has ever done. In 2001, the NHS treated 12 million patients. Today that figure is 17 million. In other words, the number of people accessing the NHS has risen from 101 people per minute to 124 per minute in the last decade.
Despite investment, and indeed despite the investment of £12.5 billion extra over the course of this parliament, demand is only going to rise. 1.6 million people will turn 65 in this parliament, with many living into their 80s and beyond. The number of over 85 year olds will double by 2030. The NHS is facing a perfect storm- an ageing population combined with rise in chronic conditions, which will see an increase in conditions such diabetes that could take up 25% of the health budget alone.
This is why we are reforming the NHS: Just as this government is committed to dealing with the deficit now, so that future generations will not be burdened with debts racked up yesterday, so we must be committed to reforming the NHS so that future generations can enjoy an NHS free at the point of delivery, regardless of the ability to pay.
To oppose this is not only to look backwards and throw aside the baton of reform so desperately needed. It is to deny that in order to protect the NHS, we must commit to changing it now.