MPs have a chance to vote for The NHS Reinstatement Bill – and to begin the process of saving our health service. The context for this vote is a deepening crisis. From the junior doctors striking again today to defend safe and fair practices to the nurses demanding decent financial support for their studies, a new wave of protest has erupted. Added to this rightful discontent among staff is the fact that patients are suffering as our hospitals are being hit by crisis after crisis.
Just days ago my local hospital in Brighton was placed on “black alert” meaning it was unable to cope with demand, and patients were diverted elsewhere. This is a story we’re hearing repeated in every corner of the country.
Our NHS is changing rapidly. Many services have been handed to private companies such as Virgin, Serco and the US giant United Health, all hiding behind the NHS logo. In the past five years there has been a 50 per cent increase in the amount spent by local health bodies on non-NHS providers.
An army of staff is now employed to tender and manage these private contracts, while the core functions of the health service are chronically underfunded. An NHS deficit of £2.3bn is projected at the end of the 2015/16 financial year and the average deficit in NHS Trusts is £14m. We’re now spending around 2.5 per cent less of our GDP on health than France or Germany. The result? Hospitals are struggling, patients are waiting longer and staff are at the end of their tether.
It’s abundantly clear we need a change of direction: which is why I’ve re-introduced the NHS Reinstatement Bill to Parliament.
This Bill would reverse the creeping marketisation of the health service and reinstate the NHS based on its founding principles, putting the public back at the heart of the health service.
In practical terms, that means simplifying the service and removing the unnecessary complication introduced in 1991 (and reinforced in recent years) which fragmented the NHS by forcing services to go into competition with each other, to win contracts. The Bill would bring back health boards, which would look at what services are needed in each local area and then provide them. It would also reinstate the Health Secretary’s duty to provide services throughout England, which was severed in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
These changes are exactly what’s needed to stop the dismantling of the NHS under the 2012 Act, to ensure we stop wasting money on a costly internal market and refocus on the best possible care for patients and decent treatment of NHS staff.
Support for the Bill has been overwhelming. Tens of thousands of people have written to their MPs asking them to come to Parliament and vote tomorrow. The doctor’s union, the British Medical Association, has been joined by health professionals up and down the country in supporting the reinstatement of our NHS. Celebrities, including actors Keira Knightley and Michael Sheen plus model Cara Delevingne, have backed the Bill.
MP’s must now translate the public’s support for this Bill in Parliament, but some practical hurdles do stand in the way. The first is that the Bill is a private member’s bill and will be debated tomorrow – a time when many MPs are usually found in their constituencies. That’s why so many people have contacted their representatives asking them to stay in London, on this occasion, to cast their vote.
Some Labour MPs support the Bill; indeed, it was backed by Jeremy Corbyn before he became Leader of the Opposition. But to make real progress on saving the NHS, the Labour shadow cabinet must state its public support now. This is a real opportunity for shadow cabinet members to stand up and lead on a cross-party challenge to the Conservative attack on our NHS – our most treasured public service.
Party politics aside, I hope all MPs who feel even slightly uncomfortable about the impact of the market and the private sector on the NHS will stay in Parliament tomorrow for a real debate over the future of our health service.
By voting for the NHS Reinstatement Bill MPs will be backing the workers in our health service, challenging the perpetual crises we’re facing and helping to rebuild an NHS we can be proud of, safe from the privateers.