MPs must work together to safeguard our healthcare

As a doctor, every day I see the enduring effects of short-term political spin on my patients.

Hospitals bursting at the seams, short-staffed and lacking beds, are told desperately needed nurses will only be available if there is ‘surplus winter funding’. Patients ready to leave hospital wait weeks for ‘exceptional funds’ to secure specialist accommodation, while we face a 12% rise in delayed hospital stays. 

The Commonwealth Fund rightfully praised the NHS’s quality. Yet BMA Chair Dr Mark Porter warned we mustn’t be complacent over the perils of short-term partisan meddling. ‘A combination of rising patient demand, staff shortages and falling funding is undermining the very foundations of the NHS, as is the constant short-term interference from politicians of all colours.’

Reinforcing his counsel, unprecedented strikes showed the peril of capriciously uncosted manifesto pledges. This week NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens called for a national consensus on social care by 2018, as we learned we lag behind similar countries in spending.

It’s now clear we need consensus on safely funding and staffing health and social care into the next decade.

Ex-Minister Norman Lamb introduced a bill for such cross-party work, warning ‘the system will drift into a state of crisis [unless] we confront the existential challenge now.’ Supporters include Green MP Caroline Lucas, several Labour MPs including Liz Kendall, and Conservative medical MPs Andrew Murrison, Daniel Poulter and Phillip Lee.  Today the Commons will debate Lamb’s backbench Bill.

Prof Sir John Oldham, who chaired Labour’s 2013 Care Commission, backs the call, as does Royal College of GPs’ ex-President, Labour’s Dr Clare Gerada.

And it’s not just politicians on both sides calling for a brisk consensus.

40 charities, including British Red Cross, Mencap, Stroke Association, and Macmillan Cancer Support, wrote to the Prime Minister urging ‘politicians to put aside political differences and work together to face these challenges, otherwise it is the sick, frail and elderly in our country who will lose out.’ Their call was echoed by 2000 grassroots signatures collected by the nonpartisan NHS Survival.

Older commissions, such as Oldham, Barker, and Dilnot, have already identified the prescription we need. Yet we still need a new consensus to implement their work, not duplicate it.

It must generate the political will to genuinely fund and deliver that prescription over a decade. It must do this before the pace of social care and public health cuts makes delivery impossible.

And it must be rapid – finishing by this summer, not next year. Charities, the professions, and Parliament must then hold the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure recommendations are enacted, not left on dusty shelves.

As Dr Poulter argues, ‘We must build on the work of the Five Year Forward View and the Barker Commission, to urgently achieve a responsible long-term consensus now’.

Last April the Health Secretary promised this, albeit with ‘some terms and conditions’. He has already said he cannot back down from his near-impossible 7-day NHS electoral promises – so why ignore his pledge for consensus?

Health and care demand is expected to soar by 50% in the next decade, with only 10% growth in funding from current trends.

Every day the public bear the brunt of politicians lacking consensus. We must act now. As the Royal College of Surgeons warns, ‘for the sake of patients this long overdue debate with the public has to happen now

* Dr Mohsin Khan is an NHS psychiatrist. He is Vice-Chair of both Oxford East Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrat Mental Health Association. He sits on the Sex Work Working Group and is South Central’s Regional Policy Chair. He is co-founder of NHS Survival. He has commented on healthcare for BBC Breakfast, ITV Good Morning Britain, Sky News, and London Live.