The NHS was founded sixty-five years ago by a Labour Government that recognised Britain needed a health service that was available to everyone according to their need and regardless of their ability to pay.
It is one of Britain’s, and Labour’s, proudest achievements but the NHS has come under criticism lately. Things do go wrong, and poor care needs to be exposed and rooted out.
The recent Keogh review contained challenging but accurate picture of care standards and failings at the 14 trusts including Medway Maritime. We must, however, remember that the problems identified in these hospitals are not typical of the NHS or of the care given by NHS staff. We should seek to learn from this report and not use it to tarnish the many doctors, nurses and NHS staff who look after us in our NHS.
We must however challenge the problems identified in Medway Maritime. As a Councillor I have repeatedly raised at Full Council with senior Conservative Councillors to get a grip on public health which is worryingly ignored in Gun Wharf despite our woeful indicators. A recent Health Audit for Medway placed us in the worst indicator in the South East region and the problem is worsening because policy makers ignore the policy solutions which can prevent health problems.
Having local politicians who ignore public health is a concern because as the KM said today; Medway A&E has significantly worsened since 2010 with it now being the worst in waiting times in the country; we have had the botched closure of the NHS Direct in Chatham Dockyard and real concerns around the merger with nearby hospitals. This added with rising MRSA, C Difficile infection rates, falling worker satisfaction levels and cuts to staff. I dont trust the Conservative Party has the right instincts to act on this problem.
Politicians should be wary but the KM editorial is right; we need a tangible timetable for improvements from the government which does not involve privatising services by the back door; and yes, we need MPs who will focus on it as a priority.
The vast majority of doctors and nurses working in the NHS perform to a very high standard day in, day out, but everyone in the country will be worried that some hospitals are letting people down. Sir Bruce Keogh’s excellent and important report found “frequent examples of inadequate numbers of nursing staff”. It is important to remember that since the election, the NHS has lost over 4000 nurses.
All hospitals face the challenge of dealing with more and more elderly patients with complex health problems, who can’t be discharged safely into an overstretched social care system which has been cut by £1.8 billion since the election – one of the causes of this winter’s A&E crisis.
To protect the NHS from the immediate crisis, Labour would use the ‘underspends’ in the NHS budget to put an extra billion pounds into social care over each of the next two years. This extra investment comes from the money the Chancellor could have spent on the NHS but chose not to and would relieve the pressure on A&Es as well as helping more elderly people stay healthy and independent in their own homes.
We also need to safeguard the NHS for the future. Labour has put forward bold proposals for a genuinely integrated NHS and social care system, bringing together physical health, mental health and social care into a single service to meet all of our care needs. Our Councillor's locally are pushing on public health issues from smoking cessation to obesity; we support measures to introduce minimum alcohol pricing. All of these opposed by the Medway Conservative Group.
The NHS’s 65th birthday is an opportunity to celebrate, but if we’re going to commemorate future milestones then we need to make sure our NHS is strengthened and protected.