The Opportunities of Devolution Must Not Come at the Cost of Our Universal NHS

05/07/2016 15:43 | Updated 05 July 2016
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When Aneurin Bevan spoke in support of the second reading of Labour's NHS Bill 68 years ago, he made a very simple, clear case. He argued that for healthcare to be truly universal, and democratic, it must be delivered through a national system. The N in NHS must truly stand for National, he argued.

The principle behind the creation of our NHS was for a national service, free at the point of use, and available to all. This principle has survived successive governments of left and right, and the NHS remains one of our most valued and trusted institutions.

Until now, that is. Along with the welcome devolution of powers over housing, skills and transport from central government to our city regions across the UK, devolving power over the health budgets is also on the table. In Greater Manchester it has already happened. In an agreement cobbled together quickly with an incomplete memorandum of understanding, the region has taken over the £6billion health and social care budget as part of their devolution deal, to be overseen by a new metro mayor who will be elected in May next year.

Liverpool city region also elects our first metro Metro Mayor next year. Having listened to the concerns of hundreds of people who live across the region, I am clear we must not follow in the footsteps of Greater Manchester when it comes to taking over our health budgets.

Not least because it would signal the further dismantling of our national health service. But also because critics of the Greater Manchester deal have warned that the devolved £6billion allocated to health and social care goes nowhere near to plugging the £2billion funding black hole that is expected to have opened up by 2021. No doubt a gap that George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt will be all too happy to wash their hands of and blame local leaders for.

The health and wellbeing of the 1.5million people who live across the Liverpool City Region is too precious to take that risk. Now is not the time for Liverpool City Region to take control of budgets which are already under massive and growing pressure. Our local health trusts are currently in millions of pounds worth of deficit. The last thing they need is another bureaucratic re-organisation that will leave them further underfunded and in danger, putting thousands of people's care in jeopardy.

Devolution is a vital opportunity for our city region. Our NHS doesn't needed to be disbanded for the new metro mayor to make a difference. She or he will be able to make a powerful impact on people's health and wellbeing if she or he is prepared to lead, co-ordinate and campaign.

I have pledged that as Metro Mayor I would establish and chair a new health and well-being board for the whole region. I will place mental health and prevention centre stage. One of my first campaigns will be aimed at tackling the prejudice and stigma suffered by people with mental illness health conditions. I will pursue integration and joint working across our physical health, mental health and social care services.

Overall, I will use the office of Mayor to create the conditions to keep people well, living longer longer, healthier, and happier lives.

But this must not come at the expense of the universal nature of our NHS or affect the fundamental principle that people in Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral will receive the same level of care as elsewhere in country. I want no part of a process that takes the N our of NHS and dismantles one of our proudest institutions. Nye Bevan famously said "The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it" and today, on its 68th birthday, his words are more important than ever.

Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree and is standing to be Labour's candidate for the Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region