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We now have all the manifestos in this general election of the main political parties and their plans for the NHS. They all call for a more ‘modern’ NHS, an NHS driven by AI, apps, and new technology. They call for more flexible working hours from staff and claim they will tackle the huge waiting lists. 

While we all want to see the crisis in acute care tackled head on, conversely none of the main parties are calling for a wholesale return to a model of the NHS that has successfully delivered the best health care in the world. 

At Keep Our NHS Public we call the NHS based on its founding principles of universality, and freedom from fear for all, the ‘People’s NHS’: publicly provided, publicly owned, accountable, and free at the point of use to all who need it. Free entirely of the damaging influence and interference, already wreaking havoc in the NHS today, of the private sector. 

The NHS founding principles were, and remain, sound but the steady privatisation and defunding of our NHS has led to the worst crisis and worst performance in its history. Hundreds of avoidable deaths every week have resulted from delays in treatment from ambulance transfer to A&E to admission. 7.8 million people are on waiting lists. Tens of thousands of people are avoidably dying in a single year. This is not acceptable – it is a political choice made by this Government bordering on social murder. And this election, is clearly the time to hold the current Government accountable for its record on the NHS. 

However, the Labour Party manifesto is deeply troubling on the NHS too. Strangely, the somewhat misleading commitment that ‘the NHS is not for sale’ (the NHS is already being undermined by contracting NHS services out to private healthcare companies, not by selling the NHS off) has been dropped. 

More importantly, there is no commitment to rely on publicly provided NHS services. Instead, the manifesto says, ‘With Labour [the NHS] will always be publicly owned and publicly funded’ but also makes a parallel commitment to use ‘the spare capacity in the independent sector’. This means funding will pay for yet more NHS staff doing more sessional work in private theatres and clinics instead of NHS work, much needed money diverted to shareholders, and further undermining of the NHS and its ability to build back its capacity. The reality is that there is no spare capacity in the private sector that does not take away NHS funding and staffing.

Labour’s plan for 40,000 more appointments a week as a strategy for decreasing waiting lists is sadly just drop in the ocean and is precariously dependent on the willingness of overworked staff to do more overtime, with no commitment to restoring fair pay whatsoever.

Neighbourhood Health Centres sound positive too but in the absence of any details the potential benefit is impossible to judge, especially when framed by Wes Streeting’s repeated claims that the NHS is a ‘leaky bucket’ that doesn’t need more fundsLittle is said about seriously addressing the emergency care pathway, and the linked and crucial need to extensively transform social care. Once more, the main thrust of ‘reform’ as an alternative to investment is based upon a combination of new technology, prevention, and shift of care into the community. Without funding, this is unconvincing, the commitment to the ‘independent’ sector deeply troubling.

The NHS needs a sea-change in policy and a new political leadership. It requires a Government committed to support a fully public and well-funded NHS. This demands a fundamental change in perspective – one that regards funding of public services as an investment in human well-being. While Labour claims that its reforms will be in line with the NHS founding principles, the lack of commitment to a publicly provided service means it is far from evident that this will be the case. Much more ambition is needed, harking back to the boldness of the party in 1945 when faced with rebuilding a war-ravaged country.

That’s why we’re calling two important events in London to discuss how we fight for a People’s NHS in the run up to the election and after the election. We urge everyone who cares about the NHS to join us from 10am to 5pm on Saturday 22 June for our ‘Restore the People’s NHS’ Conference at the London Irish Centre, 50-52 Camden Square, London NW1 9XB. Tickets are available by visiting keepournhspublic.com

We also urge all campaigners to save the date for Saturday 14 September where will be holding an all-day event at Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD where we will be coming together after the election, assessing the new situation and how we fight for the kind of NHS we all deserve. To stay up to date with these announcements and more of our campaigning work, please sign up to our mailing list on the keepournhspublic.com website too. 

Tom Griffiths is head of campaigns at Keep Our NHS Public

Image credit: Garry Knight – Creative Commons

The post We need a government committed to a fully public and well-funded NHS appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.


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