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As we have heard, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of our national health service. The NHS is the jewel in our nation’s crown and represents the very best attributes that we as a society hold dear. I truly believe the creation of the NHS, which was born of a yearning desire for things to change following the death and destruction of the second world war, to be the greatest achievement of the Labour party and, indeed, any Government.
It is because both I and my party hold the NHS so dear that Labour Members are concerned by the parlous state in which it finds itself. Pushed to the brink by the biggest financial squeeze in NHS history and reeling from the worst winter crisis on record, the NHS is at breaking point. People are waiting far too long for operations, and performance targets are so far from being met that they are now about as realistic as the Government’s infamous immigration targets.
Official data show that patient waiting times, bed shortages and ambulance queues have hit record levels. The chair of the British Medical Association succinctly summed up the situation when he said:
“the ‘winter crisis’
has truly been replaced by a year-round crisis. Doctors and patients have just endured one of the worst winters on record…We cannot accept that this is the new normal for the NHS.”
Let us be clear that this is not an unavoidable situation or the result of some unforeseen circumstances; the situation has come to pass as a direct result of this Government’s policies. In stark contrast to the policies of the Conservative party, in our 2017 manifesto Labour promised immediate investment in our NHS and, just as importantly, explained how we would pay for it.
The issue of privatisation within the NHS is both an important and an emotive one. I believe in a publicly owned NHS, free at the point of delivery, but the creeping privatisation of services poses a very real threat to that most essential of principles. The figures are irrefutable. Since 2010, NHS expenditure on private health providers has doubled from £4.1 billion in 2009-10 to £9 billion in 2016-17, while the percentage of funding allocated to private sector providers has grown from 4.4% in 2009-10 to 7.7% in 2016-17. Spending on elective treatments outsourced to the private sector rose significantly from £241 million in 2015-16 to £381 million in 2016-17.
Since the Government’s disastrous Health and Social Care Act, one third of contracts have been awarded to private providers, some of which have resulted in failure and the waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. We have seen the grotesque spectacle of Virgin Care successfully suing our NHS for £1.5 million after losing out on an £82 million contract for children’s health services in Surrey. This has to stop. Labour is committed to reversing privatisation, repealing the Health and Social Care Act and reinstating the powers of the Secretary of State for Health to have overall responsibility for the NHS.
The creation of wholly owned subsidiary companies represents another concern. These new arm’s length private companies appeal to NHS trusts because they can reduce their VAT payments and cut the pay and pensions for any new staff. They result in millions of pounds being wasted on consultancy fees, with the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Birkenhead alone spending more than £660,000. That money could have paid for new staff to work in such hospitals.
I am fortunate to have the amazing Queen Elizabeth Hospital in my constituency. Among many other things, it cares for our brave men and women who are injured while serving their country in our armed forces. I want that hospital to continue to flourish and serve the people of Edgbaston and further afield, but I consider privatisation to be a threat to that happening.