THE BLOG

Andy Burnham, Save Our NHS!

12/08/2014 14:37 BST | Updated 11/10/2014 10:59 BST

Our healthcare system is in crisis. Since 2010, the policies of our coalition government have inflicted huge damage on our National Health Service, and unless we act as a nation to remedy this, the damage to our NHS could prove to be irreversible. Over the past 4 years, our NHS has seen real terms cuts in its budget, which though in absolute terms is roughly unchanged, inflation has eroded its value. This government has been the first to cut the NHS budget in real terms over the course of a parliament ever. Even under the IMF-enforce austerity of the 1970s and the Thatcher government we did not see a real terms cut over the course of a Parliament. Since 2010, the NHS budget has increased by 9%, yet inflation from 2010 to present has been over 13%, meaning our NHS has had a 4% real terms cut over this Parliament,

We wonder why 1 out of every 3 NHS Trusts is in the red, compared to just 10% when this government took office. We wonder why operation waiting lists are at a 6 year high, with 4000 more operations cancelled in this year than were cancelled in 2010. We wonder why the proportion of cancer victims receiving treatment within 62 days has dropped by 3%. This is why, this coalition has been cutting our NHS budget in real terms, our NHS cannot do the same work with less money, especially as our population has risen by almost 3% in this period. Cutting health spending with our growing, ageing population isn't just frustrating as we wait longer to be treated; it is potentially deadly, as people are going to be more and more likely to not be treated in time.

This decrease in real terms spending is just exacerbated by the top down reorganisation of the NHS our healthcare service is going through, a reorganisation David Cameron promised would not happen, a reorganisation we did not vote for. Alone, this is a perversion of democracy, but the cost of it makes it all the more objectionable. It is costing £3 billion, money that could have paid for 20,000 more nurses or 7,500 more doctors for the course of this Parliament. Imagine the improvements in care we could have seen with so many more healthcare professionals in our NHS, but this government has wasted our money on a reorganisation we didn't vote for or need.

That is, of course, assuming we could recruit that amount of people. The way the coalition is treating our NHS has hammered morale so hard, we could well have struggled to recruit that many nurses and doctors. We see many of our professionals moving to Australia for a better work-life balance and better pay, or retiring early as they simply cannot bring themselves to work in our NHS any longer. If we are losing so many healthcare professionals due to low morale, there really is a problem in our NHS, and it has been made clear, much of the gloom in our NHS is down to Cameron's anti-democratic reorganisation.

Last week, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary gave a speech in Manchester, a speech that gave those of us in the room hope that our NHS can be saved, that it once again can become the envy of the world. Labour promise to scrap the Health and Social Care Bill introduced in 2012 to authorise the reorganisation we did not vote for, as they rightly see it as both anti-democratic and an expensive and unnecessary move. This should go some way to boosting morale in our NHS and allow money to be spent on care not corporate movements.

Burnham did not go as far to elaborate on Labour's healthcare spending plans, though one would anticipate spending will barely rise as Labour are at least partially committed to some austerity. Leaving aside the fact austerity itself is flawed, Labour must increase healthcare spending significantly, to reverse the real terms cuts and ensure that per capita spending is at least constant in real terms going forward, year on year. In an aging society, this is the least we can do - we cannot cut spending in a time where more and more people need our NHS. We must ensure the best possible care is available to everyone in our country, including social care and mental health provision.

2014-08-11-AndyBurnham.jpg

Andy Burnham, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, is one of Labour's most popular politicians.

Labour's commitment to ensuring social care and mental health really do get the equity they need in our health service is admirable. By integrating social, physical and mental care, our health service will look after the whole person and ensure that they get the highest quality care and treatment, as mental or social needs can affect physical health and vice versa. Proper integration should reduce the fragmentation of care and ensure a person's needs do not result in unnecessary harm or hospitalisation that fragmented care often does.

Efficiency savings in our NHS are all well and good, but not at the expense of a comprehensive health service. We need to ensure spending per person remains at least constant in real terms no matter what, regardless of supposed savings. Let's return these savings as surplus rather than making care contingent on them. Labour's ideas on the NHS are going in the right direction, Andy Burnham may be the saviour it needs, as long as he is willing to spend what is needed to reassert the world class care the NHS is famous for.

PHOTO/NHS Confederation