As a local MP for Sunderland, and Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of the Sunderland & District Keep Our NHS Public where she set out the national picture when it comes to our NHS, with specific emphasis on the NHS winter crisis.
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Thank you for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be here speaking with you about our NHS.
The scale of support shown for this recently set up campaign group shows just how strongly local people feel about our NHS and its future.
As a Shadow Health Minister, I know all too well how damaging the Tories policies towards our NHS are and it is groups like your own, working alongside the Labour Party in Parliament, that are helping us hold the Government to account for their actions.
In my contribution this evening, I have been asked to talk about the national perspective when it comes to our NHS and there is nothing more pressing right now than the utterly shameful winter crisis that is engulfing our NHS.
This winter crisis is unlike any we have seen before, and the blame lays squarely at the feet of the Health Secretary who has presided over serious underfunding, understaffing and underappreciation of our fantastic NHS.
Labour have repeatedly dragged ministers to the House to hold them to account on this.
In the first week back in Parliament of this year, we had an Urgent Question where our excellent Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, took the Government to task on their dismal actions and all the while Jeremy Hunt was staging a sit-in in Downing Street to save his job.
If he put as much effort into saving our NHS as he did saving his own career, then part of me thinks our NHS wouldn’t be in the state that it is currently in.
As the age-old saying goes, you can never trust a Tory with our NHS.
But I think we should now add: “especially Jeremy Hunt.”
Now many people are getting sick of the constant use of statistics to highlight the scale of the winter crisis, but they must never be forgotten and we should never stop repeating them.
The Tories have starved our NHS of resources.
This has meant that this winter alone, 75,000 patients have waited in the back of ambulances for over 30 minutes – often in excruciating pain.
Over one third of England’s children’s care units were 100% full, with not one single spare bed for new admittances.
A total of just over 1000 people have been hospitalised with flu; almost three times more than the 366 admitted during the same period in 2016-17.
Our own analysis has shown that there is a workforce crisis with 100,000 vacant posts across NHS England. Labour have estimated that this means a total of 40,000 nurse vacancies, 12,000 nursing support staff vacancies and 11,000 scientific, technical and therapeutic staff vacancies.
It seems astounding that the Prime Minister has said that the NHS is “better prepared” for the winter than ever before, but are we even surprised or shocked when this Prime Minister is prone to saying “nothing has changed” and sticking her head in the sand.
It beggar’s belief that the Tories believe that the NHS is only facing seasonal struggles and believe the NHS is in good health, when the key targets which help us gauge our NHS’s health are not being met.
It is worrying that right now bed occupancy stands at 95% when it should be at 85% and the gold standard A&E four hour waiting target is at 85% when it should be 95%.
So they are meeting the targets – just the wrong way around!
This whole saga is saddening, but what should shame the Tories (though I don’t think it ever will), is that in the 70th year of our NHS existence, it started the year marred by story after story of ambulances queuing up outside of hospitals and Trusts urging patients not to go to A&E because they were full to capacity and couldn’t cope.
The warning signs have been there for months, if not years.
Back in October, Jim Mackay, Head of NHS Improvement told the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee, and I quote:
“we are running tighter than any of us would really want to … so, it will be difficult – it will be very tight – over the winter”
This is from one of the top people within the NHS and the Tories turned a blind eye and ignored these warning signs.
But Labour has also driven home the need for this winter crisis to be prevented and avoided at all costs, so that patients can have the full confidence they rightly expect in our NHS.
At the General Election, Labour committed to an additional £6 billion being pumped into our NHS to not only prepare the NHS for a crisis such as the one we see now but also make sure our NHS has the money to continue being the jewel in the crown of our public services.
Even back in October 2017, Jon Ashworth was calling on the Government to direct emergency funding towards the NHS with a bailout of £500million to protect those who rely upon an overstretched NHS service.
This was all ignored and ridiculed by the Tories who yet again showed their disregard for the importance of protecting our NHS when they should be doing all they can to ensure our nation’s health is always put first.
But we know exactly what the Tories will say which is that they have moved funding towards the NHS but does anyone really think that an additional £1.6 billion will help address these pressures? It is paltry in comparison to what the NHS needs.
It is also concerning that NHS Trusts who had heard this announced and had probably let out a sigh of strained relief were not informed of their allocation until a month later.
The Budget was announced on the 22nd November and Trusts were not receiving their emergency funding until late December – some only getting it days before Christmas.
It is not surprising that NHS Providers turned around and said this money had come: “very late to be used to maximum effect”.
Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, also providing a damning analysis of the reality our NHS finds itself in last week said, and I quote:
“For the first time since [targets] were introduced, despite best efforts, last year the NHS missed all four of the long standing acute and ambulance performance standards. The four hour A&E standard. The 18-week elective surgery standard. The 62-day cancer standard. The ambulance response time target.”
This has culminated in NHS staff describing the state of their A&E departments as “third world” or “never seen anything like this”.
This has meant Trusts have had to delay all elective surgeries – which is estimated at 55,000 operations – until the end of January and no sign of when they will be rescheduled for.
This, of course, will have a knock-on effect for future operation schedules and will see patients living in pain for far longer than they should and many even see, god forbid, fatalities.
And this crisis is not over yet, as John Appleby of the respected think tank the Nuffield Trust said two weeks ago:
“the sobering reality is that winter for the NHS has hardly started”.
This is troubling. This is worrying. This is shameful.
We cannot allow this to continue.
That is why KONP is such a valuable local group which will help campaign to raise awareness amongst local people about our NHS and engage residents in defending our NHS before it is run completely into the ground and totally privatised.
Labour are committed to giving our NHS the support it needs.
In its 70th year we shouldn’t be seeing this precious public service being run into the ground but instead seeing investment that sees it through another 70 years and another 70 years after that.
People may say that this is an often misquoted line, attributed to Nye Bevan, but the thrust of it remains true.
“The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.”
I am up for that fight, as I know all of you are too.
So let’s go from here and fight for our NHS.
Let us protect it and defend it at all costs.
Not just for those people who rely upon it now but for those future generations who will rely upon it too.