NHS wake-up call

Philip HuntLord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is a Shadow Health Minister and Labour’s Deputy Leader in the Lords

The calamitous stewardship of the NHS by the Tory-led Coalition Government has been shown very visibly by the latest British Social Attitudes survey published today. This shows the largest ever drop in public satisfaction in the NHS in a single year from 70 % in 2010 to 58% in 2011, the first full year of David Cameron’s government.

The tragedy is that they inherited the NHS in the best condition it had ever been in. Labour had invested in 300,000 more staff, hundreds of new hospitals and community health centres, and the creation of new services like NHS Direct. Parallel to all of this, waiting times were drastically reduced. The previous Tory government bequeathed waits of at least 18 months. We got this down to 18 weeks. The Tories left office with only 34% of people satisfied with the NHS. By 2010, the figure was the highest since the survey began in 1983.

Not surprisingly, the independent and respected US-based Commonwealth Fund, which has recently looked at 11 major developed healthcare systems, gave the NHS a glowing report. In fact, it said that the NHS was extremely cost-effective.

It has long been a mystery as to why the Coalition wanted to tear the NHS up by it roots and introduce so much disruption, when there was scant support among the public and staff of the NHS for such change. Now however, the detested Health and Social Care Act is now being implemented across the country at the expense of services to patients.

Tragically, it is clear that the NHS has been very badly affected. The reduction in public satisfaction reflects the downturn in performance overall, longer waiting times and huge financial pressures. Just as our health service should be focussed on meeting an efficiency challenge of £20bn, it is having to waste precious time and effort on the creation of Clinical Commissioning Groups and the imposition of a destructive market, forcing hospitals to compete with each other rather than working together to improve services.

Mr Cameron has already disappointed people in breaking his pre-election promise not to go for a top down reorganisation of the NHS. It seems he is also reneging on his pledge to make the NHS his priority. The further worry and fear is that the government are so hell bent on its deterioration, in the hope that confidence in a publicly funded service will be undermined.

Much is at stake, and the results of the British Social Attitudes survey are a wakeup call to those of who care about our beloved NHS to fight all we can to save it.

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