Jonathan Ashworth MP: The NHS is at breaking point and must be the central issue of the next election
Labour will bring forward a long-term investment plan for the NHS to ensure it has the funding and staff it needs, writes Jonathan Ashworth MP
Make no mistake, the upcoming election will be about the future of the NHS and the everyday experiences of patients. It will be about the 4.4 million people on waiting lists, the tens of thousands languishing on trolleys in hospital corridors for hours, and the thousands waiting longer in anguish and distress for cancer treatment.
This election will be about the desperately vulnerable children and young people denied the mental health support the deserve. And it will be about every one of our elderly relatives left abandoned by a social care service that has been cut to the bone.
Tory strategists know voters don’t trust them on the NHS, but still every announcement they make quickly unravels and crumbles when subjected to the mildest scrutiny.
This summer Boris Johnson, for example, was exposed for his misleading claims about hospital upgrades. The simple truth is the Tories have repeatedly carried out ‘smash and grab’ raids on NHS budgets, leaving hospitals with ceilings collapsing, sewage pipes bursting, equipment stalling and patient care suffering.
The Tory budget for the NHS falls significantly short of what is needed to provide the quality, safe care to patients after years of Tory cuts. Even Johnson’s advisers admit: Tory MPs simply don’t care about the NHS.
The National Health Service is Labour’s proudest achievement, providing universal healthcare for all on the basis of need, free at the point of use. Labour will bring forward a long-term investment plan for the NHS to ensure it has the funding and staff to deliver the quality care we all want for our loved ones and ourselves.
It is my determination to be a health secretary who ensures every government decision improves health and wellbeing too.
Let me explain why. It’s a national shame that, 71 years since the creation of the NHS, health inequalities are widening. And after nine years of Tory austerity, advances in life expectancy, which had steadily increased for 100 years, have now ground to halt and even gone backwards in some of the poorest areas.
Inequality, poverty and deprivation mean people get ill quicker and die sooner. It’s why earlier this year I pledged to adopt a comprehensive, cross-government national strategy to tackle health inequalities, attacking the wider determinants of ill health and putting prevention first.
That means action to improve the homes we live in, the childhood experiences we are exposed to, the neighbourhoods we grow up in, the food we eat, the quality of air we breathe and the support we rely on in our older years.
As a start, we will fully fund public health services. Sexual health services, smoking cessation services, drug and alcohol treatment services have all been hammered with £800m of cuts. It’s resulted in falling numbers of health visitors and increased pressure on general practice. With fewer GPs and district nurses, our childhood vaccination rates are the lowest in over a decade, with the number of two-year-olds getting the MMR vaccine falling for the fourth year in a row.
To underpin our focus on health inequalities we’ll introduce a Future Generations Wellbeing Act, ensuring a laser-like focus on improving the health and wellbeing of every child now and in the future.
But we can only rebuild our NHS if we protect it from the disaster of a no deal Brexit. From medicine shortages, staffing issues and the threat of increased waiting times, no part of the NHS would be untouched.
And the Government has done nothing to quell the worry that the scope of any post-Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump could include demands for big US private health conglomerates running our health services. I want to send a clear message to Donald Trump: our NHS absolutely must not be for sale, and with a Labour government it certainly wouldn’t be.
After years of austerity, damaging cuts, privatisation, increased inequality in public health outcomes, and Brexit looming, it’s vital that our NHS is protected – the future of the NHS will be central in the upcoming election.
Jonathan Ashworth is Labour and Co-operative MP for Leicester South and shadow health secretary
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