In recent weeks, I have received petitions, postcards and hundreds of other correspondence relating to funding, services and reorganisational threats facing our National Health Service. This is the response I have written to constituents.
Many of you will recognise that for the last six years Labour have warned about threats of a funding crisis and an increase in unnecessary private investment from commercial companies in our NHS permitted by the Conservative Government. This is not scaremongering or playing political games, the challenges facing the NHS, including an ageing society increasing demand, in the past six years are ever-mounting and have only been exacerbated by Conservative cuts, so much so that the NHS is facing one of its the biggest financial squeezes in its history.
NHS Funding and Spending
Health spending rose at a historically low rate of 1.1% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2015-16. In comparison the Nuffield Trust, an independent health charity, has noted that under the previous Labour Government, health expenditure growth increased at an average rate of approximately 6% per year between 1997 and 2009.
As a result of Conservative changes to the NHS, four million people are on waiting lists, the latest A&E waiting times are the worst on record, the morale of our hard working doctors and nurses is rock-bottom and hospitals across the country face soaring deficits. And yet the Autumn Statement last week contained not a single penny of extra investment for social care and the NHS.
The issues facing the NHS are now well beyond party politics. Even the Conservative Chair of the cross-party Health Select Committee accused the Government of creating a “false impression that the NHS was awash with cash” and that the Government had overstated the level of funding they claim they are giving. Former Conservative Ministers are also now publicly urging for more funding for social care and the NHS from Government amid continuing calls for help from experts. See here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/29/tory-mps-press-philip-hammond-over-nhs-and-social-care
Sustainability and Transformation Plans
There is now growing concern around NHS England’s proposed Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP). As many of you are aware, the Government has outlined plans to make £22bn worth of efficiency savings in the NHS by 2020/21. I am concerned that the only way the Government will achieve these savings will be by cutting staff and pay and closing essential services. Much of the detail about STPs is unclear as many plans are currently being drafted in private. You can read more about the work the King’s Fund has done on the broad concerns about STPs here: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/sustainability-and-transformation-plans
Despite the secrecy around STPs in many parts of the country, in our area the NHS, Birmingham City Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council have already produced an initial first draft STP that is publicly available for comment. You can read and respond to the draft here: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/stp
This is to be welcome, but it does not alter the financial squeeze in the area. As part of this initial stage, Birmingham MPs have had meetings with local clinical commissioning groups and the Council. It is clear the huge challenges our city’s health services face are partially due to cuts enforced on to the City Council, and from the Department of Health. It is vital the plans take account of the need for enhanced access to urgent care and recognises the already growing pressures from an ageing population on our social care.
Labour have made clear we are opposed to STPs being used as a requisite for further calls and instead are urging the Government to set out proposals for additional NHS funding. This is part of why Birmingham MPs wrote to the Chancellor last month to warn of the impact of funding problems in Birmingham on social care as well as leisure centres, libraries and others. You can read more about that here: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/autumn-statement-birmingham-mps-warn-12185356
Many of you have also been in touch about supporting the National Health Service Bill put forward by my Labour colleague, Margaret Greenwood MP. As a result of that Health and Social Care Act passed by the Coalition, we have seen big private health care companies snapping up contracts, taking them from existing NHS providers. Currently NHS hospitals are allowed to make up to 49% of their money from private patients. It is a national scandal. Nobody voted for that, and yet that is exactly what the previously Conservative-Lib Dem Government passed the law to do.
Labour created the NHS. It is our proudest achievement and we remain its guardians in the face of the challenges coming from this Conservative Government. I therefore wanted to let you know of my intention to support the NHS Bill. As this is what is called a private members bill, sadly it may not get timetabled for full debate. However, for more information about the Bill and to follow its process in Parliament, click here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/nationalhealthservice.html
I hope you find this update useful.