‘The debate about the NHS should be above politics’ - Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott and Justin Madders debate the future of the NHS at a Health and Care Forum fringe event at the Labour conference.
The Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Health Minister debated the topic of health with the political editor of The House magazine. They covered many different aspects of health, including NHS funding, junior doctors, EU national health workers, social services and much more.
Kicking off the fringe meeting, Diane Abbott called for the debate on the NHS to transcend party politics. She told the fringe: “On the one hand we have to have a debate about the NHS, which should be above politics… but on the other there is nothing more intensely political than citizen’s healthcare.”
Unsurprisingly, one thing that came up quickly was the question of how the National Health Service can be funded. Diane Abbott criticised some of the spending of the service, she said of course there is a “big funding crisis” but she added the Labour party believes there is money that is being spent that could be saved. She used the examples of the drugs bill, PFI and agency staff.
Justin Madders suggested Labour could look at raising corporation tax in order to fund the service. He warned the health service risked becoming "untenable" without an increase in resources.
He said companies could be persuaded that that the tax would benefit them in the long run, since their employees would be healthier and spend more time in work.
Mr Madders stressed that he was speaking from a personal perspective, rather than laying out a new Labour party policy.
He said: “I think someone is going to have to stand up and say, more is going to have to be paid. I think my personal view, not Labour party policy, [is] we ought to be looking at corporation tax and businesses paying a bit more.”
On the subject of EU nationals’ place in Britain following the Brexit vote, Ms Abbott stood firm, saying free movement was not something she was willing to negotiate on.
She said she “surprised” her colleagues had said that a total end to free movement is a price worth paying. She went as far as to say and end to free movement would be a “disaster” for the health service.
“Both the health service and the care sector depend very heavily on staff from the EU. I will be calling in parliament for assurances about current EU residents and their future. They should not be bargaining chips in a negotiation about pensioners, they should have the assurances they need now. I'm afraid I will be the last woman standing defended maximum access to the single market while respecting the significance of the referendum.”
Ms Abbott added: “In principle, I deplore the sentiment behind the call for the end of free movement. You cannot please these people, so you might as well take the right decisions for the British economy.”
Mr Madders admitted that he had a “slightly different view” but was keen to state that he wanted to give assurances to EU nationals that they are still “welcome and valued”.
One thing that has had numerous headlines in the past year is the standoff between Jeremy Hunt and junior doctors. When asked about this in the debate, Ms Abbott appeared to agree with junior doctors.
She said Mr Hunt was “wedded” to “false assertions” and that he had extrapolated the wrong information about people dying at weekends.
“He thinks people are admitted at weekends are more likely to die, actually people who are admitted at weekends are more likely to die because you are more likely to be very ill. He is wedded to this false assertion that he has to impose the contracts.”
“I think junior doctors were right to fight the imposition. I hope that Jeremy Hunt will consider [not imposing the contracts.]”