First and foremost, I must emphasise that allegations about some agenda to privatise the NHS are scaremongering – at least when related to my party. I do not believe that the NHS should be privatised. My party does not believe that. We believe that the NHS is something to be valued, protected and improved and we are committed to an NHS that is free at the point of use.
My connections to the NHS are personal – my mother is a nurse in a community hospital. I am committed to the principle of a public healthcare system funded through taxation where treatment is free at the point of delivery. However, my father runs a hospice and through his work I have seen how a charity operated outside the NHS can complement its services and provide an excellent standard of care; I do not, therefore, believe that the state always needs to be the only provider of care.
Look at the wonderful job that St Joseph’s Hospice does here in Hackney, or the care which Macmillan nurses can provide, and you’ll see how the public and charitable sector, for example, can complement each other. Independent hospices provide £900m worth of palliative and end of life care to the country every year; the NHS pays for only a third of this. The dogmatic assertion that any non-state provision is unacceptable privatisation would prevent these wonderful charities from providing a vital service. What’s important is the outcome for patients, not the uniform worn by their staff.
As Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England (who is a former Labour adviser), has said: ‘Most health services are delivered in this country by the National Health Service and that is bound to continue to be the case, and rightly so, under any foreseeable future.’ The independent King’s Fund says that it is a ‘myth’ that this government’s NHS reforms will lead to widespread privatisation. The independent sector (which includes charities) accounts for only six pence in every pound the NHS spends and the British Medical Journal has shown that only 5.5 per cent of contracts were subject to a competitive tender and most of the money awarded in these went to the NHS.
As the NHS Confederation says, competition is not an end in itself, but a tool to provide care – and those who deny the value of competition are undermining patient care. Surely, when our borough is full of exciting social enterprises and tech entrepreneurs trying new solutions to our problems, Hackney should be the last place to want to limit innovation
What this government has done is to put local doctors and nurses in charge of deciding who can provide the best care for their patients. The role of Clinical Commissioning Groups means that decisions about NHS care are in the hands of local doctors. If that means that doctors sometimes choose private hospitals to perform some operations so that patients have shorter waits for treatment they need, that is their choice. If using charities which are experts in the provision of pain control or end of life care means using non-state providers, then I defy anyone to object.
But to have a strong NHS, we need a strong economy. That’s how the NHS budget has been increased by £12.7 billion over this Parliament and how a Conservative government will continue to make real-terms increases if elected in May. As well as endorsing the NHS’s own five-year Forward View, the Chancellor announced £2 billion of additional funding for frontline NHS services every year in England from 2015/16. There are now more than 8,000 more doctors in the NHS and 5,000 more nurses on wards, looking after patients. And it’s not just about more spending, but about smarter spending. Whilst waste has been hugely reduced by this government, NHS procurement systems are still not efficient enough and, when any money wasted is money not being spent on patient care, that’s not good enough.
Finally, I cannot say often enough that all of our discussion of the NHS should focus on the outcomes for patients. I am concerned that some of the draft Bills I’ve received emails about focus more on the system than on patients. My approach to the NHS if elected as the MP for Hackney North will always be ‘does this deliver the best care for patients and value for money for the taxpayer?’ Defending the system for the sake of it or putting politicians rather than local commissioners back in charge of the NHS as Labour would do, is not the answer.