It’s time to retake our NHS from the Tories

Labour is a government in waiting and is ready to properly fund Britain’s health, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

IN THE same week that it was revealed that the Tories are planning more sell-offs of our NHS, new research published by the Labour Party showed that nearly half of England’s maternity units closed to new mothers at some point in 2016.

With these revelations coming months after the winter crisis the Red Cross termed a “humanitarian crisis,” it seems that under Tory austerity, we now have a permanent crisis in the NHS. Specifically, data obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act shows that 42 hospital trusts which responded to an FOI request say they temporarily closed maternity wards to new admissions at some point in 2016, with some closures lasting more than 24 hours, while over 10 trusts shut temporarily on more than 10 separate occasions each.

Additionally, in 2016 there were 382 occasions when units had to close their doors, a 70 per cent increase from 2014, with hospitals reporting capacity and staffing issues as most common reason for closures.

Tory underfunding is devastating the NHS in various areas, and their ideologically-driven cuts are biting more and more.

As shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth put it: “Under this government, maternity units are understaffed and under pressure. It’s shameful that pregnant women are being turned away due to staff shortages, and shortages of beds and cots in maternity units.”

And the problems faced by patients are not just in this area.

Jeremy Corbyn this week warned of a “year of unprecedented failure for cancer patients” with worsening statistics across the board, including the fact that the government has failed to hit cancer targets since 2013-14, and an 87 per cent rise in the last year for patients waiting 62 days or more for treatment.

The Tory neglect of our NHS is causing misery for patients and making it harder to access routine NHS treatments.

Across the country, services which were previously easily available are now being rationed due to the Tories’ funding squeeze, creating a postcode lottery for patiences and resulting in more and more patients being turned away for treatment elsewhere.

The Tories’ response to the regular revelations about how their underfunding is hitting the NHS has not been to change direction but instead to try to cover up a new round of NHS cuts — namely the NHS Capped Expenditure Process — which involves hundreds of millions of reductions to local health economies, including closing wards and services, in addition to extending waiting times and stopping treatments.

Alongside their persistent underfunding of the NHS, seven years of Tory inaction on the social care sector has led to 1.2 million older people living with unmet care needs, and in turn putting ever more pressure on the NHS.

A record number of patients in the NHS are delayed on discharge and one third of those are due to lack of social care.

We need to be clear that these problems are of the government’s making and are a direct consequence of the largest financial squeeze in the NHS’s history, meaning that by 2018 NHS spending per head will be falling.

The government is driving through £22 billion in cuts by 2020 and the NHS is already short of 50,000 front-line staff.

Alongside this, and as campaigners and trade unions have warned, the Health and Social Care Act has opened the door to systematic privatisation.

The austerity project as a whole also makes pressures worse on the NHS and social care, due to increases in inequality and poverty. To give one shocking example, the number of hospital beds take by patients being treated for malnutrition has trebled in recent years.

In contrast to the Tories, Jeremy’s Labour has pledged to give the NHS the money it needs, and to join up services in a holistic approach with a properly integrated health and social care service.

As he said earlier this week: “NHS patients cannot afford another year of Theresa May” as the NHS is under threat not just from underfunding but privatisation, the internal market and contracting out.

It is more important than ever for us to fight for a Labour government that will both stand up for our health service and fund the NHS properly. But we also need to get active in campaigning to save our NHS now, including through supporting the People’s Assembly Against Austerity demonstration at the Tory conference this autumn.

First published in the Morning Star