If the Tories win the 2015 election the left's worst fears about the NHS may be realised.
If the Tories win the 2015 election the left’s worst fears about the NHS may be realised
Back in 2010, David Cameron said the NHS would be his “number one priority” in government. But then, he also promised that there would be “no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS”, and we know what happened there – the government embarked on the biggest reorganisation of the NHS in its history.
So we already know the second pledge was cobblers; but it should also be clear by now that the first promise was abandoned soon after Cameron got the keys to Number 10. Indeed, the NHS is rapidly approaching a crisis, and perhaps even the point of no return. The signs are ominous: if the Tories manage to hold on to power next year, there may not be an NHS for much longer.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider a few of the more recent developments:
Six million people a year are showing up at Accident and Emergency departments because they can’t get a GP appointment, according to a new study by Imperial College London. The study found that in 2012/13, 5.77 million A&E patients were there because of an inability to get an appointment with a GP.
NHS Referral to Treatment figures for April released by NHS England earlier this month also showed that 3 million people were waiting for treatment on an NHS waiting list – the highest number for six years. In the week ending June 15, 297,527 people attended major A&Es – the highest number in any week since records began four years ago.
According to senior Tories, the NHS will “collapse” in the next parliament if funding is not increased to meet rising demand. Dr Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Commons health select committee, wrote in the Telegraph: “If there is not an increase, it is hard to see how we could maintain current levels of service given the rising demand.” Paul Burstow, a former Lib Dem health minister, said he believed the NHS needed an extra £15 billion from the Treasury over the next five years. That is, “if you don’t want the system to collapse during the course of the next parliament”.
The head of the British Medical Association has also warned today that the NHS is cash-strapped and “palpably fraying at the edges”.
According to an investigation by the Sunday Post, 23,000 overnight beds have disappeared from NHS wards over the last four years, leaving patients increasingly vulnerable to local bed shortages.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), published in April, also revealed that the UK has fewer hospital beds per person than most of Europe, at 2.95 beds per 1,000 people. This compares with Germany which had 8.3, Austria (7.7), Hungary (7.2), the Czech Republic (6.8) and Poland (6.6). 5,870 NHS nurses have also been cut by the government since 2010.
In May it was reported that the NHS had breached a cancer waiting times target for the first time since they were introduced in 2009. According to figures for January and February 2014, across England 84.4 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of a referral by a GP – below the 85 per cent target. The number of NHS trusts missing the target has doubled in the past year, reported the Independent.
The number of overdue smear tests has rocketed under the coalition, with 360,000 more women overdue cervical cancer screening compared to three years ago. The growth in the number of women overdue for a smear is thought to stem from difficulty in getting a GP appointment at a convenient time. Cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives every year in the UK. However around 3.7 million women are currently overdue for a smear test – an increase of 11 per cent on 2009-10 figures.
On the eve of the election of 1997, Tony Blair said that Labour had just “24 hours to save the NHS”. Perhaps next year Ed Miliband might consider resurrecting the slogan – this time around the fate of the National Health Service looks even more precarious in Tory hands.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.