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It is an honour to follow Mark Pritchard. Let me begin by praising all the healthcare workers employed by the NHS and in social care for the work that they do—including my own daughter-in-law, who recently qualified as a nurse. In the face of austerity, in difficult and arduous circumstances, with diminishing resources and never-ending cuts, they have worked tirelessly to provide the best healthcare outcomes for the people of my constituency.
As a Labour MP, I am proud to say that the best traditions of our NHS, established by a Labour Government, are alive and kicking in Hartlepool: alive because the people of the town, together with healthcare workers, campaigners and the trade unions, have kept public health and NHS provision high on the agenda, fighting to keep our local hospital, demanding improvements in GP services and protesting against attempts to water down NHS and public health provision throughout the town, and kicking because they have been swimming against the tide for far too long, with wave after wave of cuts hitting them squarely in the face and threatening to drag them under. The people of Hartlepool will have none of that.
We lost our A&E in 2010, and we have stood our ground ever since. The plan was to build housing on hospital grounds; the people said no. The plan was to run our maternity unit down; the people said no. The people stood strong and said: “Our children should have the right to be born and registered as such in their own town.” They are fiercely protective of their NHS and rightly so.
What can the people expect from the Queen’s Speech? Is it the return of A&E to Hartlepool hospital? Not a cat in hell’s chance. Will it give more money to invest and improve our hospital? No way, and no way, too, for any hospital trust across the Tees valley, where in excess of £10 million is required to cover high-risk repairs, £5 million of which is needed in my own trust of North Tees and Hartlepool.
The truth is that the pledges on NHS funding in the Queen’s Speech will have little impact on hard-pressed NHS acute services in Hartlepool, nor will they plug the gap in mental health funding, and in regard to social care the Queen’s Speech simply dodges the bullet by kicking the can down the road and fails to tackle the growing crisis in adult social care head-on. And despite a continued 2% precept being placed by the Government on council tax to cover adult social care, this is offset by a reduction of funding to our local council of almost £21 million, or 45%, since 2013-14.
The wanton, in-your-face, upfront daylight robbery of public services funding has to stop, and stop now, if we are to tackle serious health inequalities and growing social care needs in places such as Hartlepool, and the Queen’s Speech simply does not do that.