It is great to follow my hon. Friend Graeme Morrice, who has reminded me that when Labour introduced the minimum wage, it was fiercely opposed by the Conservatives, who said it would bring about the end of the universe as we knew it. Also, unless I am much mistaken, that was when we had our last all-night sitting in the House. We kept the debate going until 8 o’clock in the morning, with a full house on the Labour side all waving their Order Papers as we brought in the minimum wage. That was one of our proudest achievements, and one that we should never forget. We should never take any lectures from the Conservatives on that subject.
Today, I want to talk about the dog that did not bark—the thing that was not mentioned in the Budget. According to the latest news from Asda Mumdex, 70% of women think that it is the most important factor affecting their lives. It is called the NHS. I am not sure whether its omission from the Budget was the logical extension of the Government’s trying to take politics out of the NHS, which Mr Lansley tried to do with dubious success. However, to try to do that now would be to deny the fact that the NHS is deeply political because it is a service that is dependent on an annual decision on what percentage of the tax take we should spend on it.
If do not know whether the Conservatives want to take politics out of the NHS by moving to an insurance model, for example, but if they do, I would have to warn them about making comparisons with what is happening in the United States of America. The US spends 16.9% of its GDP on health but produces only 3.1 hospital beds per 1,000 of population, whereas we spend 9.3% of our GDP on health and produce three hospital beds per
1,000 people. So ours is an extremely efficient system. My constituency has some of the best in NHS provision, as well as the second largest number of doctors and life sciences professionals in the country. If something cannot be done in Edgbaston, in the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, then it cannot be done.
I have set up an NHS tracker service for my constituents, and in the past month, 400 of them have come forward with responses which show that 17% said that either they or a member of their immediate family had been to accident and emergency in the previous month, of whom only 78% were seen in under four hours, with 16% waiting longer to be seen. Also, 67% of the respondents said that either they or a family member had seen a GP in the previous month, with 34% being seen on the same day and 24% being seen in one or two days. However, 11% had to wait more than a week to be seen, and 8% waited more than two weeks. This tells us that the service is being stretched to the limit.
We also know that the Government have tried to delay a number of decisions until after
The problem will not go away, however, because the botched £3 billion reorganisation that the Tories and the Lib Dems saw through not only cost us a lot of money but created unnecessary structures. We now have something like 440 new bodies and administrative layers. They have not improved patient care, but they have diluted accountability and made it even more difficult to find out who is actually in charge.
In addition, there has been an increased reliance on agency staff in our hospitals, and people have been made redundant only to be rehired. We have ended up with a Tory Government who are trying to make us believe that the NHS is fine and things are working, but even in the best areas, such as mine, things are about to be stretched beyond their limits. The dismantling of some of the state structures that has taken place over the past few years will become worse if there is another Tory Government. In three areas—local government, education and the health service—state structures have been being dismantled in a way that makes some services simply undeliverable.
So what I want in my patch in the NHS is: a return of the 48-hour GP guarantee; a stop to the closures of the walk-in centres, because the ones we have are being used; and a better use of our pharmacists. Above all, I do not just want an extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 extra doctors to be recruited—I want more of them to be trained. Although the Chancellor forgot to mention the NHS, it is still extremely important. However, it is currently not funded and structured in a way that is sustainable, and that is one of the most important omissions of this Budget.