It’s time to stand up for our NHS

The transfer of cancer care services to the private sector, says Rob Flello MP, reminds us that with the NHS there is a lot to stand up for

The transfer of cancer care services to the private sector, says Rob Flello MP, reminds us that with the NHS there is a lot to stand up for

We are now less than nine months from the General Election and political parties will be spending much of the time ahead setting out their manifestos.

Many of you may feel this is unimportant. People tell me the parties are too similar or that promises will be forgotten once the election is over.

The current Tory-led Government has made this worse. Before the 2010 General Election it promised no cuts to front-line services, an end to bankers’ bonuses, no abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), improvements to Sure Start, and no rise in VAT. What it delivered was cuts to vital services, a Chancellor desperate to protect his friends in the banks and their bonuses, EMA cut within a year of the poll, more than 500 Sure Start centres closed and VAT hiked to 20 per cent.

Perhaps most galling of all, however, was the pledge there would be “no more top-down re-organisations” of the NHS. Instead, the biggest top-down overhaul in the NHS’s history, at a cost of £5 billion, has imperilled its future.

In recent weeks the problems the NHS faces have made national headlines. From this you might conclude the NHS is failing to cope with demand and is no longer fit for purpose. The NHS doesn’t run perfectly and it is probably unrealistic to expect an organisation of its size possibly could. But this ignores the fact that as well as re-organising the NHS, the Government has criminally underfunded healthcare.

Its NHS record is clear: almost 50 per cent more cancelled operations; average waiting times up by almost a week; and a drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment within 62 days. People now face a postcode lottery whereby it is not their need that governs whether they get treatment, but where they live. Perhaps most worryingly, while in 2009-10 four out of five people said they could see a GP within 48 hours, the figure now just two in five.

The Government’s solution, as with most things, is to flog the NHS to the highest bidder while shirking responsibility for the problems it faces. Let me put it another way. If your car starts developing faults but you haven’t taken it to be serviced for four years, then you can’t blame the car?

All of this has led to ‘Transforming Cancer and End of Life Care’, a project which will see £1.2billion of cancer care services transferred to the private sector. This is deeply worrying.

Those who support it ignore the sheer recklessness of making yet another massive structural change at a time when the health economy in Staffordshire, like much of the UK, is plagued by debts and struggling to cope with the fallout from the Stafford Hospital scandal.

If this were not sufficient cause for concern, consider also the following questions. Who gave the Tories a mandate to sell parts of the NHS to their private sector friends?  Who seriously thinks our healthcare will be improved by handing it to companies whose first concern is profit? I don’t know about you, but I want my doctor to consider what’s best for me, not the company he works for.

If changes need to be made, they should be made to the existing system, one which has served us well for almost 70 years. To use the car analogy once more; if your vehicle develops a fault with part of its engine, you don’t give away the car but fix the broken part.

The evidence shows the NHS consistently out-performs market-based healthcare systems in other parts of the world. I cannot think of anything worse than moving towards the American model, which forces families to spend thousands of pounds on treatment and base life and death decisions on financial considerations.

That is why I’m delighted my parliamentary colleagues from the area have joined me in opposing these proposals, particularly those from the Conservative benches who have bravely defied their party line.

The NHS has always been about prioritising people over profit. I hope in years to come we will not look back on this period as the one in which this vital principle was thrown away.

Rob Flello is the MP for Stoke-on-Trent South

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