I have been asked a number of times on Twitter and other Social Media forums for my views on the NHS. The difficulty is that this, like many issues, is complex and it is impossible to give the comprehensive answer the question warrants in 140 characters.
Therefore, below I have set out my views and position on some of the key issues relating to the NHS.
Our NHS is one of our nation’s greatest achievements. It remains among the best health care systems in the world and despite some of the current challenges it faces is still the envy of most countries. The vast majority of people receive an excellent service.
I believe we should never take for granted how fortunate we are to live in a country that has free world class health care available to all. Our dedicated doctors and nurses are a credit to our country and should always be respected and honoured for the work they do.
I have been asked a number of times if I will fight to save the NHS from cuts. However, the truth is that there are no cuts to save it from, at least not from the Conservative Party. This government has ring fenced NHS spending throughout this Parliament, something the Labour Party would not have done. We have put £12 billion more into the NHS Budget and this year the NHS in Cornwall has had over £15 million extra – more money than it has ever had before.
The Conservative Party has committed, if we are in Government, to protect NHS funding in the next Parliament, and to provide real terms year on year increases. The only way we can have a properly funded health service is if we have a strong economy. The biggest risk to the NHS is in fact that our country returns to the borrow and spend policies of the Labour Party.
I have again been asked if I will protect the NHS from privatisation. This is again a false question.
There is no privatisation of the NHS. What we do have is specific services being outsourced to private and charity sector contractors – but the NHS is not being ‘sold off’. Those that talk of privatising the NHS prove that they do not understand the difference. This method of delivering health services was in fact started by the previous Labour Government. When they left power in 2010 4.9% of our health service was delivered by private and charity sector organisations. Under this Government this has only risen by 1% to 5.9%.
I believe that the private sector has a part to play in delivering certain health services. As long as services remain free at the point of delivery, something the Conservative Party is absolutely committed to protect, it makes little material difference who provides the service.
As an example, most GP surgeries have been private sector, partnership businesses that contract with the NHS for many years. What is important is that the service providers deliver high quality health care at a value for money cost to the tax payer. What we need is the best services delivered at the most efficient cost by whichever sector is able to provide it best. Whilst I expect mostly this will remain within the Public Sector, we should be open to the fact that sometimes that will be private sector businesses or charities.
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the NHS
There has been a lot of speculation about the impact of TTIP on the NHS. However, TTIP does not require us, or any other country to open up their national health systems to private providers. These accusations of privatisation are unfounded scaremongering.
Instead, this free trade deal will lower trade barriers, boosting growth and creating more jobs, as well as lowering prices. It will help provide much-needed security for hardworking taxpayers. Making sure Britain continues to be an open, trading economy is part of our plan to build a healthier, more balanced economy, so we can secure a better future for Britain. This is especially important when the warning lights are flashing over the global economy with weak growth in Europe and a slowdown across Asia.
• TTIP does not require countries to open up their national health systems to private providers. Accusations that it will cause privatisation of NHS services are unfounded scaremongering. As the government have made clear, TTIP will not affect how public services are paid for.
• Decisions about NHS care will remain in the hands of local doctors, who will continue to act in the best interests of patients. The NHS is something to be valued and protected – and decisions about the commissioning of NHS care will not be affected.
• The agreement will help patients get the most effective new treatments. We want patients to be able to benefit from the very latest diagnostic devices and drugs. The US is a world leader in medical technologies and this agreement will help patients get access to those treatments on the NHS faster.
• This agreement is not new and the UK has over 90 similar agreements in place. The rules on investment protection and Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will preserve the right of the government to regulate in the public interest.
Current NHS Pressures
There is no doubt that our NHS is facing growing demand for the services it delivers and this has caused a high level of pressure on certain areas of the health services. We have seen this here in Cornwall especially at A&E level.
But let us be clear the main cause of these pressures is the increase in demand. We have a growing, aging population. People are living longer than ever before and whilst this is good news and evidence of the success of our NHS, it does create its own pressures.
Much has been made of some of the reforms this Government has brought to the NHS. It is quite clear that an organisation the size and as complex as our health service will need to be reviewed and reformed regularly.
The reforms this Government have implemented have sought to reduce the bureaucracy and top heavy management – we have greatly reduced administration costs, and put more responsibility in the hands of clinicians.
Any change in an organisation the size of the NHS will bring challenges. But the result is we now have more doctors (6000) and nurses (7000) and less middle managers.
Steve with Cornwall Blood Bikes