Our NHS has never faced greater threat nor been as debt-ridden in its 70 years than it is now.
Yet Westminster is so preoccupied with Brexit, the impact of Universal Credit cuts and gossip about leadership challenges (assassinations even!) that it has almost forgotten why it should care about our NHS.
I returned to the Westminster village this week with a small team of fellow Cornish campaigners to attempt to persuade former colleagues to wake up to the NHS crisis before next week’s Budget. The cross/non Party team included fellow columnist, Labour Councillor Jayne Kirkham and former Cornwall NHS chief and GP, Dr Colin Philip.
The media’s attention span is notoriously short. MPs are not much better. As an NHS lobby we were greeted like a prehistoric sect. Yes they thought they could recollect mention of these matters but wanted to tell us about the pressing problems of that moment.
Our message was simple. The much trumpeted “£20 billion extra for the NHS” pre announced in the summer and expected to be confirmed in next week’s Budget is:
- actually just £3.4 billion extra – independent experts have done the sums and confirmed.
- sufficient only to barely maintain NHS services in their current unfeasibly, over-stretched state.
Our campaign, already supported by thousands in Cornwall, is calling for “20% more by 2020”. Or £23 bn next year. An ambitious demand. But an honest one. It recognises how far NHS funding has fallen behind in recent years. All respected independent authorities (Institute of Fiscal Studies, Health Foundation etc) acknowledge this.
These figures are also based on an assumption of simultaneous high level efficiency gains throughout the NHS.
If we really want to pay off NHS deficits (currently around £2bn. £100m in Cornwall), restore services, meet training, safe staffing and recruitment requirements that’s the level of investment required. Equivalent to 3p on income tax!
Although my Party (Liberal Democrats) promised at the last election to, if necessary, raise tax to save the NHS, the funding shortfall has worsened. The crisis has deepened.
If, as the PM has claimed, the days of austerity are behind us, will we really see an NHS funding settlement which meets its need?
Meanwhile Parliament is also being asked to put right the impact of the Conservative’s savage cuts in the much derided Universal Credit.
Replacing the complex and confusing matrix of benefits, credits and work incentives with a simpler system is not in itself a bad policy. Using this transition as a cloak to implement savage cuts to the welfare of the already struggling working poor is cynical and cruel.
We’ll see if next week the Government replaces the £3 billion they’ve cut.
Many folk would find it assuring if Parliamentary representatives used their publicity opportunities or called public meetings to explain why they supported these cuts to working credits and our NHS in the first place, rather than using distraction activity.
Indeed, as it becomes ever more evident that the slow Brexit train crash is destined to create horrendous carnage for decades if it isn’t stopped, some cynics may suggest it’s merely the biggest distraction strategy of all; used by the right wing to hide their plans to complete the dismantling of our public services and return to Dickensian-style welfare.