Jos Bell reports from Manchester on the health debate at the 2012 Labour Party Conference.
Beware! Cameron’s Great Carve Up is coming to an area near you!
Just a year ago the NHS stood for the National Health Service, now, as Andy Burham said in a rousing speech to the Labour 2012 Conference Hall:
“Dave Cameron NHS Con Man is setting it up to stand for Not Here Soon.”
Offering a choice between two futures for the NHS, Burnham urged fellow Labour members to work together with him – to be bold like Bevan and build a Labour vision for a 21st century health and care service.
Reminding the hall Labour had left the NHS in the best shape it had ever been, with the lowest ever waiting lists and highest patient satisfaction, and rated very highly in relation to health services in advanced countries, straightforward as ever, Burnham also took the time to apologise for past mistakes during Labour’s time in office – admitting some poor value PFI deals, to the need to address creeping marketisation and to less than satisfactory levels of older people’s care in some areas.
At the same time this pales into comparison to the coalition’s clear intent to destroy. In just two years, Arriva have begun to operate ambulances in Manchester; Virgin, Serco and Circle are taking over chunks of services and the national pay framework is under threat – starting in the South West, all the details being revealed on Labour’s NHS Health Check. So many things the country had taken for granted for decades are being dismantled and handed over to the friends of Dave, with more than a quarter of billion value out to tender.
This is privatisation on an unprecedented scale, said Burnham.
In response to those who question the feasibility of his promise to repeal, Burnham tackled the issue with a straight to goal header: no new top-down, multi-million money-wasting re-organisations for him – he would work with the organisations he inherits but just work with them in a different way. He is strongly committed to the repeal of marketisation and to the restoration of the legal basis of a national, democratically accountable, collaborative health service:
“I never had any objection to involving doctors in commission. It’s the creation of the full blown market I can’t accept.”
Sensible words for irrational times.
Setting down the foundations for his 21st-century NHS, taking us from party politics to protecting people in a single breath, Burnham explained Labour would offer an integrated holistic model with positive mental health services at its core – a one stop shop based upon collaboration between doctors and providers. In essence the complete opposite of the fragmented self- interested chaos which the government has created. This then will be The Repeal.
So what of Her Majesty’s Government of the day? Andy Burnham quipped that it’s hard to be a shadow when you’re up against the invisible man and after not a single word in a month, clearly the search was on for the missing health secretary. Later in the day it seems the tree-hiding sloth SoS emerged to pledge himself to preserving Lansley’s legacy – which, just as one former junior health minister said to me – has something of a curious emphasis when the N in the NHS is under sustained attack.
If Hunt is intent on defending an attack then Labour surely can indeed make the next election a referendum on Cameron, the man who so cynically pretended to be friend of NHS and his team of destroyers.
To rapturous and emotional applause the Shadow Secretary of State appealed to the audience, both in Manchester and further afield:
“Stand up – defend the NHS.
“We fight as one for the things we hold n common
“Put Labour at the heart of a new Coalition to save the NHS.”
Calling his battle cry one for ‘true human progress’, passionately quoting Bevan, Andy Burnham brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation which even SoS Sloth may have heard from the branch of his tree somewhere in Westminster…
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
“Now more than ever the NHS needs folks with the faith to fight for it.”