I am afraid that too much of what we have heard from Ministers and some Government Members has tried to pass off the pressures that we are seeing in the NHS as just what happens every year. I have worked with the NHS for around 20 years, and let me tell Members that those pressures are not what we see every year. Cancelling operations for a whole month is extremely serious. In one week alone, 300 operations were cancelled in Leicester, including for patients such as 80-year-old Kenneth Roberts, who was due to have his hip operation tomorrow. He is in so much pain that he is on liquid morphine and has to use crutches or a wheelchair to get about, and his wife, Jenny, is physically and mentally exhausted, too.
One of the real problems is the absence of any acknowledgement from Ministers of the huge knock-on effect that rescheduling a whole month’s operations will have. It will simply mean that existing patients who are already on the waiting list will have to wait even longer, too, and it will be very, very difficult to bring that list back down. As my hon. Friend Dr Williams said, a number of Labour Members have a terrible sense of déjà vu. We remember the 1990s, with ambulances queuing up outside A&E and millions of patients left languishing on waiting lists. I also remember the predictable cries from some right-wing commentators that the NHS’s time was up and that it could no longer survive as a service free at the point of use. I am afraid that we will see that coming back again all too soon.
The truth is that we are not dealing with the long-term underlying demands on health and care services—our ageing population, and more people living with one, two or more chronic conditions who desperately need more preventive services in the community—and huge technical advances. Yes, the Government talk about that, but they do not understand the scale of the challenges or the response that is required. The truth is that, since 2010, the NHS has had an average annual real-terms increase of 1%. That figure compares with 3.5% historically and 5.5% under the previous Labour Government. On top of that, we have had huge cuts to social care, and the dreadful, wasteful, pointless Lansley reorganisation, which has given reform a bad name. Unless the Government change course, we will see increased rationing as patients are waiting in the NHS, leaving thousands in pain and distress, and increased rationing as a result of eligibility criteria in social care, leaving millions of older and disabled people without any support at all. That is not what the people of this country want.
The Government need to put in place a bold 10-year strategy of investment and reform for both the NHS and social care. They should drop the idea of a separate social care Green Paper—we cannot look at the two separately—and they should heed calls from 90 Back Benchers for a cross-party convention. I am worried about the idea of a royal commission, as that would take too long. We know the options for investment and reform, so we need to get on with the job. I suggest a shorter process of six to eight months to try to get cross-party agreement, particularly on funding for social care, because any party that comes up with a substantial proposal risks being obliterated by its opponents, and we need a proposal for funding that will last whichever Government are in power. In the 70th anniversary of the NHS, I urge the Government to act.