It is utterly baffling that the Government this week pushed through a top-down restructure of the health service when the NHS is still struggling through the Covid pandemic. This was the wrong bill at the wrong time.
The reforms are nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from the real problems facing the NHS and they will do nothing to alleviate the current crisis. We went into the pandemic with an NHS already on its knees – hospitals crumbling, 17,000 fewer NHS beds, 100,000 full-time NHS staff vacancies, and GP numbers falling. When Covid struck, the decade of mismanagement and underfunding of our health service at the hands of the Conservatives became devastatingly apparent.
With Covid-19 infections rising, flu season upon us, a crisis in social care, and the backlog of care generated by the pandemic the winter weeks ahead look set to be some of the most challenging in living memory.
Across England nearly 6 million people are currently on the NHS waiting list. In Manchester more than 150,000 people are waiting to be seen. As for A&E targets – in October just 74% of patients were seen within 4 hours of arriving in A&E. That is the lowest performance ever recorded. Rather than wasting time on this poorly timed and poorly thought-out Bill, Ministers should be intervening to bring down the scandalous waiting times.
Perhaps the Conservatives could learn a thing or two from the last Labour Government which succeeded in bringing down waiting times from 18 months to 18 weeks by delivering the staff and resources the health service desperately needed. Tackling poor waiting times starts with addressing the severe workforce shortages across the NHS and social care. The Royal Colleges, trade unions, and representatives across the sector have all raised the alarm over dangerously low staffing levels, even as Covid burnout threatens to make the situation worse.
A survey by the BMA found 45% of doctors experienced depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, or other mental health conditions worsened by the pandemic. While a survey by the RCN found 36% of nurses were contemplating leaving the profession altogether. We need a solution for NHS workforce shortages now; staff need a fair pay rise now; and we need safe staffing legislation now. This Bill delivered none of it.
Labour vehemently opposed the 2012 Lansley reforms as it unlocked the door to privatisation of care. These reforms do little more than throw open the door to yet more unchecked and unscrutinised privatisation – with lucrative contracts taken over by private companies prioritising profit over patient care.
This Bill also comes in the wake of revelations about the billions of taxpayers’ money the Conservatives have wasted by handing contracts to their friends, family, and donors.
I could not see one single benefit to this Bill. It is the wrong Bill at the wrong time, and I cannot and did not support it.