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Speech in Parliament by Margaret Greenwood MP

The fact that an organisation as highly respected as the Red Cross should describe our NHS as facing a “humanitarian crisis” is absolutely shocking. It goes to the heart of this Government’s failure to provide a reliable, properly resourced national health service free at the point of need. That should be a source of shame for the Government. Reports last week that two patients died on trolleys in corridors—one having waited 35 hours to be seen—are truly shocking. Can this really be the face of the NHS in England in 2017? Under the Tories, it seems that it is. The Health Secretary responded by suggesting that the four-hour target should apply only to the most urgent cases, and that it was estimated that 30% of patients in A&E did not really need to be there. In other words, he blamed patients and suggested a downgrade of A&E services. He should hang his head in shame.

It is this Tory Government who have decided to cut funding to the health service, asking it to make savings of £22 billion. In Cheshire and Merseyside, the NHS has to find savings of £l billion. Wirral clinical commissioning group calculates that it will have a £12 million deficit for the year 2015-16, nearly a third higher than the original £9 million forecast, but NHS England has asked it to maintain the forecast at £9 million. I would be interested to hear why this curious request has been made. Patients in Wirral West are concerned about the impact that these savings—or cuts—will have at Arrowe Park hospital and in general practice, and they are right to be concerned. The biggest financial squeeze in the history of the NHS is putting services at risk.

Let us be clear: there is nothing inevitable about these Tory cuts. This is a political decision and it is being used to drive through changes including the introduction of accountable care organisations, borrowing a model from America where such organisations are used to deliver private insurance-based healthcare. An NHS manager from my constituency has written to me saying:

“The STPs and national policy are currently pushing for a redesign of services—primary care at scale and a move to make system-wide organisations. The real punch line is there is no funding to make these changes. Locally there is talk about an Accountable Care Organisation for Wirral—meetings of senior managers across health and social care are being held on almost a weekly basis to create a roadmap for this to happen. With no money with which to do it. Having fragmented services and finally recognised the failure and destruction caused by the faux ‘internal market’ in the NHS, they are now making services use what pitiful resources they have to try and put it all back together. I truly despair that there will not be an NHS this time next year.”

That is a stark warning and a damning indictment of the Government’s failure. The Secretary of State should be addressing the crisis by giving the NHS and social care the funding they need, to make up for this crisis of the Government’s own making around access to GP appointments, a failure to train enough nursing staff, a failure to fund social care, and cuts to community pharmacies when communities need them most.

I have long been aware of the Tories’ agenda for the national health service. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 opened it up to the private sector so that profit-hungry companies can cherry-pick the work that they want to deliver and allowed NHS hospitals to give half their beds to private patients. I believe that this Government and previous Tory Governments are seeking to move us to a two-tier system in which those who can afford to do so have private health insurance and the rest are left with a bargain-basement NHS. The arc of NHS history during the Tories’ time in office since the Thatcher period shows this, and we now appear to be reaching the end game.

The Government are cutting the supply of healthcare in the public sector to create demand in the private sector. The Secretary of State may believe in an ideological drive to introduce a system in which the individual pays their own way through individual private insurance—he is of course entitled to that view—but that is an entirely different concept from a national health service, of which Labour Members are so proud. He must be honest about that. In the process of trying to transfer us to a two-tier, insurance-based model, did he not pause to think about the human suffering he would unleash in the process? Patients wait for hours on trolleys while anxious relatives watch on helplessly, and dedicated staff are stressed out day after day.

Now is the time for a decision. It is not too late for the Government to review their approach. They can face the facts and admit to themselves that English people want a state-managed, state-funded national health service that is free at the point of use and paid for through direct taxation—just like the one created after the second world war by a Labour Government with such vision and which became the envy of the world. The Government should swallow their ideological pride and say, “Okay, we get it. We will fund the national health service.” Anything less will be a betrayal of all that the NHS stands for.