The NHS is once again in the news and not in a good way. It is fast becoming a basket case with ambulances unable to deliver critically ill patients to hospital in anything like acceptable times, operations often delayed with unacceptable waiting times, people unable to make GP appointments and now a series of strikes because the Tory Government cries crocodile tears instead of funding the NHS and its staff properly.
There is a dangerous myth that has been around in our politics for far too long that the public sector is inefficient and that as much of it as possible should be in the private sector. This has permeated our party as well with lots of seemingly intelligent people believing the tales spread by the Tory Party and their business backers about the terrible inefficiency of nationalised industry. In government we actually supported this nonsense with the part privatisation of Royal Mail and what a success that has been, not.
The NHS, once our pride and joy has seen endless moves under both Labour and the Conservatives to hive off large chunks of it to the private sector. (Doubters should read NHS plc by Professor Allyson Pollack or Betraying the NHS: Health Abandoned by Michael Mandelstam to see how complicit Labour is in destroying the NHS). Now Labour’s Wes Streeting is talking about using the private sector to tackle the obvious problems that decades of underfunding have caused, completely dismissing the evidence that the moves to privatise the NHS have been the cause of many of the problems. He is ignoring the multiple reorganisations that have been foisted upon the NHS over the past 30-40 years, including the Lansley reforms that our party stupidly supported in government. The splitting up of our NHS, into hospital trusts, mental health trusts, primary care trusts, ambulances trusts and many other trusts, coupled with the so-called internal market that people foolishly believe will create efficiency, have left the NHS spending far too much time and money on bureaucracy rather than patient care. Hospital building mostly done through the hopelessly inefficient and sometimes corrupt PFI process has stalled and GPs face mountains of paperwork that stops them giving proper care.
Our party must now stand up and state very clearly that we support an integrated NHS, running all its own services and employing its own staff and we must state very clearly that we will fund it properly out of national taxation. We must make it clear that privatisation is off the table and that we will reverse that which has already taken place. We know that voters care about the NHS and this is an open goal if we are only prepared to take a stand.
What is the point of a Liberal Democrat Party whose forebears laid the ground for the ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state if we now continue to try and save the NHS with the very policies that have caused its problems. In addition, our country now needs a massive training programme to make sure that the NHS gets all the doctors, nurses and other staff that it needs and those staff should be properly rewarded and so that we can stop depriving many poorer countries of the medical staff they so desperately need by poaching them to prop up the NHS .
With both the other parties offering no real solutions to the myriad problems of the NHS, it is surely time for us to offer a radical alternative to recreate an NHS we can all be proud of.
What have we got to lose?
* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently active in the Calderdale Party.