Last Saturday I was joined by hundreds of people and other MPs when I spoke at a march and rally in support of our National Health Service in Newcastle.
The event was organised by ‘Keep Our NHS Public North East’ in response to the draft Sustainability and Transformation Plans which aim to make unsafe cuts of almost £650 million in the North East’s health service budget over the next five years.
These plans will ultimately be signed off by local decision makers and local councils who are being placed in an impossible position by Jeremy Hunt. The message from the march was that these decision makers must be brave, they must stand up for their communities and fight to save local services.
Every expert body in the country from NHS providers to the BMA to the cross party Health Service Select Committee has told the Government the NHS doesn’t have the funding it needs.
The truth is that Tory health policies are failing our health service. Ninety NHS trusts have reported serious problems and called in extra help this winter, patients are facing longer waits, hospitals are overcrowded and understaffed, urgent operations are being cancelled, A&E targets missed, and massive cuts to social care have left patients stuck in hospital beds when they are ready to leave.
Theresa May and the Health Secretary have continued to claim that the Government has invested “£10 billion” more in the NHS during this Parliament, yet the Health Committee has said that the true figure is £4.5 billion after taking into account cuts to other areas of health spending. This has created a false impression that the NHS is awash with cash – it is not, in fact our government spends less on health than most other European countries.
Perhaps an immediate crackdown on the unpalatable high wages being paid to temporary managers and locums would help.
Some NHS bosses are paying stand-in staff up to £2000 per day, with some earning more than £400,000 a year. Locum doctors are earning as much as £155 an hour for covering shifts in hospitals that are facing serious staff shortages.
In fact, most locum shifts are worked by doctors who are already employed, rather than working as a locum all of the time.
Yet the growing pressures on the NHS in the face of unprecedented demand and the funding squeeze are prompting more doctors to work as locums.
Surely it is wrong from a quality, financial and fairness point of view to pay excessive rates to locums when they are alongside equally hard-working permanent staff on NHS terms.
Labour has long advocated a properly funded integrated health and social care system and we are pressuring the Government for a sustainable funding package for health and social care to be brought forward in the March Budget because rather than picking fights with hardworking doctors and nurses, we will value and want to support our NHS staff in delivering world class, high quality care for our loved ones.