The state of the NHS is raised with me again and again on the doorstep and in correspondence from residents. Over recent months, I’ve noticed that concerns have become more widespread and, unfortunately, the evidence makes clear that these concerns are well-founded.
I’m frequently told that it’s much harder to get an appointment to see a family doctor. When I looked up the statistics, I found that a huge 60% of patients say they can’t see their GP within 2 days. In the Lincs West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG – which covers Lincoln) alone, 31,168 people say they’ve waited more than a week. There are also fewer GPs working in the NHS.
One of this government’s first acts was to scrap the guarantee of a GP appointment within 48 hours: the effect of this is now being felt.
A&Es are another cause of worry and, again, the evidence bears this out. Across the country, A&Es have missed their 4 hour waiting time target every week for 53 weeks in a row. In the last year, nearly a million people waited for over 4 hours at A&E.
The statistics are even worse for patients who need to be admitted into hospital after visiting A&E. Those waiting on trolleys for longer than 4 hours has almost trebled from 61,969 in 2009/10 to 167,969 in 2013/14.
As might be expected given these figures, experts now say that A&Es don’t have safe staffing levels. Thousands of nurses and frontline staff have been lost from the NHS since 2010; in fact, 7,000 NHS frontline staff were made redundant between 2010/11 and 2012/13.
The average length of time people are having to wait for treatment is also on the rise. Waiting lists are at their highest in 6 years and now exceed 3 million people. If you are unfortunate enough to be waiting for a treatment like a cataract removal or a knee operation (as some I know are), these are being rationed.
People who need diagnostic tests, such as CT or MRI scans, ultrasounds and endoscopy tests, have to wait longer too, as – shockingly – do cancer patients. The latter led Cancer Research UK to warn recently that “some patients are being failed”.
In short, the NHS is deteriorating before our eyes.
This isn’t what people want and it’s not what they thought they were voting for in 2010. Cameron told his Party Conference in 2006 that his “priority” for an incoming Tory government could be summed up “in three letters: N.H.S.” How entirely misleading and transparent this has been proven to be. One thing is certain: the NHS can’t afford another 5 years of this.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP has made clear he would do things very differently in a year’s time. Patient care, not ideology, will be the priority.
Over the past 4 years, the Conservatives have purposely facilitated the creeping privatisation of large swathes of NHS services. When hospitals go into the red and more services are contracted out to private providers, it becomes more likely that they will soon be charged for, rather than being free at the point of need.
Almost half of NHS bosses believe the health service is under such strain that patients will be forced to pay for at least some services within 10 years. A Labour Secretary of State would guarantee the very cornerstone of the NHS: that it is a national service free at the point of use.
Labour would also guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours (or on the same day for the people who need it) and guarantee a booking ahead beyond 48 hours for a named GP. Importantly, we’d introduce ‘whole person care’ too, bringing together physical health, mental health and social care into a single service to meet all a patient’s care needs.
The 2015 general election will present voters with a critically important choice about what they want the future of this country to look like. With regard to our NHS, that choice is between it continuing its rapid and dangerous decline or, instead, being allowed the opportunity to survive and serve us all.