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The national health service is about people—those who work in the NHS and the patients for whom they care. It produces heroes on a daily basis. In the last year, I spent long nights at my late wife’s bedside as she battled against cancer. I am reminded of Andrew Agombar, the consultant surgeon who twice operated on my late wife, and of his relentless commitment to trying to save her and to serving the public. I am reminded of the conversations I have had in Barnsley hospital with doctors and nurses. I am reminded of the GPs who provide an integral part of the British way of life and I am reminded of the porters, cleaners and volunteers. They are all heroes and are all dedicated to the very best principles of our NHS.
In my family’s darkest days, we saw the true genius of the NHS—a genius based on care and compassion, commitment and dedication, principles and standards. The market can be a useful tool, but there are limits to its ability to deliver those values. There is a reason why Bupa does not do accident and emergency, and we must never allow an ideological free-market agenda to undermine all that is great about the NHS. That is what the Government are in danger of doing. I accept the need for fiscal responsibility and I acknowledge that the Secretary of State’s proposals have the purpose of moving health care more into the community and away from hospitals, but the patient, not the market, must always come first. The risk is that the British people will pay for these reforms three times over while patients see little or no improvement in their care.
The previous Labour Government delivered the biggest hospital-building programme in NHS history based on private finance initiative funding, which the then Opposition supported. Consequently, many trusts are now locked into 20 to 30-year fiscal plans. In order to realise the benefits of the investment that Labour put into the NHS, those trusts will require stable funding over this period. Without it, much of the existing investment could be wasted.
GP commissioning is another example of the Bill’s inefficiencies. The taxpayer could end up paying to fund the community or the private investor.