The pressure that the NHS faces in my constituency under this Government is all too apparent. I have a constituent, Mr Stephen Corfield, who asked me to call on him last weekend. Stephen has been housebound for the past year with severe back, hip and neck pain that results in severely restricted mobility. He lives in his upstairs bedroom and is cared for by his wife. He has not been able to go downstairs for a year. Stephen is in dire need of X-rays to diagnose his condition, yet he cannot get to hospital because the privatised ambulance service in Greater Manchester, run by Arriva Transport, will not come out to take him. Arriva says that all Stephen has to do is to get to his front door, at which point its passenger transport system will do the rest. This completely overlooks the fact that Stephen is totally incapable of getting to his own front door. Is it any coincidence that Stephen’s problems are being exacerbated by the inaction of a privatised ambulance service? Stephen has to sit at home, his health deteriorating day by day, all for the want of an appropriate, decent response to his problems from that privatised service.
Other constituents have been to see me to complain about the withdrawal of the diabetic retinopathy screening service from Heywood. This has resulted in diabetics living in Heywood being asked to travel to Rochdale for an essential screening test. The test leaves them with impaired vision, and therefore unable to drive. They have to use public transport, and often have extreme difficulty in doing so. If ever there was an argument for keeping health services local, the diabetic retinopathy screening test is it. As a result of this cut to the service, diabetics in Heywood are not keeping their appointments because they do not feel confident that they will be able to return home safely after their test. The result of the cut is that patients are missing out on an essential test that helps them to maintain their eye health and keep them out of hospital. This is a false economy if ever there was one.
Sadly, those two examples are all too typical of the patient experience in today’s NHS. Services are being cut and privatised, with an inevitable reduction in quality of care for the patient, and this is all the result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The Act was introduced by a coalition Government with no mandate to do so; it was mentioned in neither the Tory nor the Lib Dem manifesto.
I should like to move on to talk about NHS staff. Not long ago, I was one of them. I worked as a health care scientist and I saw at first hand how demoralised NHS staff had become under this Government. NHS staff are not against change. We have spent our careers working with a background of constant change, but what has happened since 2010 has been unprecedented. Services have been cut and privatised, and staff have been made redundant or TUPE-transferred to private providers. I have seen hard-working colleagues burn out, and many people have taken early retirement if they can afford to do so. They were unable to take the pressure of working in today’s NHS.
In a spirit of consensus, I should like to suggest to the Secretary of State—were he here—that one easily achievable thing he could do would be to stop ignoring the recommendations of the pay review body that were made last year, and to pay all NHS staff the 1% pay rise they so richly deserve. I cannot understand why this Government have chosen to pick a fight with NHS staff over a 1% pay rise. They cannot possibly be proud of the fact that they have presided over strikes in the NHS. Any Government who can get the not-normally-militant Royal College of Midwives out on strike must surely admit they are doing something wrong.
NHS staff will strike again next week, simply because the Secretary of State refuses to meet the trade unions to discuss and negotiate the issues. The Secretary of State constantly heaps praise on hard-working NHS staff, yet he refuses to do this one simple thing. If he were to remunerate the staff in this way, it would improve morale, which would have a positive effect on patient care. The NHS is one of this country’s greatest achievements, yet under this Government we have witnessed a decline in the quality of care, growing health inequalities and stressed, demoralised staff. The Secretary of State is presiding over strike action in the NHS, yet the simple solution to the strikes lies in his own hands.