09/01/2017 12:52 GMT | Updated 09/01/2017 21:35 GMT

Talking About An NHS 'Crisis' Isn't Helping Labour Win Elections, Former Minister Caroline Flint Warns

Time for all parties to show 'grown up' consensus on health

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Caroline Flint

Labour should stop trying to depict every NHS problem as a “crisis”, the party’s former Health Minister Caroline Flint has warned.

Flint told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that focusing only on times when the Health Service is under extreme pressure was “not winning an election for Labour”.

“It’s always about ‘crisis... the NHS is on its knees’,” she said.

The former Shadow Cabinet minister - who was Tony Blair’s public health minister - insisted the party could be both critical and try to build consensus on long-term issues like social care. 

“I’ve come to the view on this that it’s important that the Labour Party holds the government to account on the NHS - but when it comes to a vision on health and social care I do believe we need a cross party consensus on this.

“It’s always about ‘crisis... the NHS is on its knees.’ The truth is, that is not winning an election for Labour. We’ve got to be a bit more grown up about this.”

Speaking to HuffPost UK on Monday, Flint stressed that she was referring to all parties needing a more mature approach to some health issues.

“We all need a grown-up discussion. I’ve had some nice tweets from people saying this is an important issue.”

Flint had privately made the same point in Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet, pointing out that valid criticism of the state of the NHS was not enough for a party that wanted to govern - and that it needed to work to find long-term solutions.

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Jeremy Hunt

Vernon Coaker, who ran Labour’s Sleaford by-election campaign, told the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) last month that it came fourth because the voters were more interested in Brexit than Labour’s NHS pitch..

The public had “stopped listening” to Labour on the doorstep, despite a local A&E being closed, he said.

On Friday the British Red Cross said the NHS was facing a “humanitarian crisis” as hospitals and ambulance services struggled to keep up with rising demand.

This followed the deaths of two patients after long waits on trolleys in hospital corridors.

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Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Asworth

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government policy of “systematically underfunding” the NHS was to blame for the crisis, which saw patients “languishing on trolleys and in ambulance queues”.

“The Red Cross being called in to help in our hospitals is just the latest staggering example of how the NHS is now being pushed to breaking point. For the Red Cross to brand the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’ should be a badge of shame for Government ministers,” he said.

Jeremy Corbyn said the health service was at “breaking point”. 

“This is a national scandal - and Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt have to take both responsibility and urgent action to tackle it,” he said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Winter is always a very busy time for the NHS and so to support staff working hard on the front line, we have put in place comprehensive plans earlier than ever, supported by an extra £400 million of funding to help the service cope with additional demand.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is due to make a statement on the crisis on Monday.