Grantham Journal column: Government must be prepared to pay for NHS for ‘everyone’

SKDC Councillor Charmaine Morgan, who is also chairperson of SOS Grantham Hospital, outside the A&E unit at the hospital EMN-160818-123745001
SKDC Councillor Charmaine Morgan, who is also chairperson of SOS Grantham Hospital, outside the A&E unit at the hospital EMN-160818-123745001
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Margaret Greenwood Labour MP for Wirral West is due to present the NHS Bill for its Second Reading early in the new year.

She said: “The Bill aims to put a stop to the privatisation of the NHS. It would also remove the costly and inefficient internal market and tackle PFI debt. The bill restores the duty of the Secretary of State to provide and secure a comprehensive health service in England - a duty which was scrapped by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This is crucial because that duty underpinned our entitlement to a comprehensive health service in England. At the moment Jeremy Hunt doesn’t actually have that duty, and so our entitlement to a comprehensive health service in England is undermined. The Bill would also stop NHS services from being forced out to competitive tender. The money we pay in taxes should not go into the pockets of the shareholders of private companies; it should be spent on patient care. The Bill restores the NHS as a public service. The 2012 Act allowed NHS Foundation Trust hospitals to make up to 49% of their money out of private patients.We must not let the government hand over our precious NHS to the private sector.”

The NHS Bill also tackles the problem of PFI debt by transferring liability to the Treasury, freeing up our hospitals to do what they were originally designed to do – look after patients. It removes the inefficient and costly internal market that was introduced by the Thatcher government. The Bill has cross-party support. We need our local MPs to support this Bill to put an end to the privatisation of our National Health Service.

Fighting for our local A&E services has highlighted the flaws in our current NHS structure referred to by Margaret. One of the biggest challenges local politicians and campaigners face, is that we have virtually no say now in how our services are provided. Unelected and virtually unaccountable Hospital Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups have been put in place by the Government to make key decisions. The NHS Bill would change this. But our NHS structure is only part of the picture. The other is funding.

If the Government is serious about providing an NHS that serves the needs of ‘everyone’ it must be prepared to pay for it. I have been advised that SW Lincs CCG have recently admitted they cannot afford to keep Grantham Hospital A&E open. Whilst we have concerns over the management of ULHT, a Guardian report highlighted that last year Hospital Trusts reported the highest levels of deficit in our NHS history at £3.5bn (taking into account ‘one-off transfers and accounting adjustments’). According to the Public Accounts Committee report ‘ Sustainability and financial performance of acute hospital trusts inquiry’ - ‘the NHS Five Year Forward View highlights an estimated £22 billion gap between resources and patient needs by 2020–21’. They state that ‘the financial position of NHS bodies has significantly declined since the Committee’s last report on the subject. NHS bodies as a whole were in deficit for the first time in 2014–15.’ Nationally, patient waiting times in A&E and for operations are at record high levels. Cancer treatment is falling behind other European nations. As our population is living longer, the demand on services is continuing to increase. More, not less, funding is needed. Rural communities are particularly vulnerable to cuts in local services. A Nuffield Trust report identified that only 3% of our population live more than 18 miles from an A&E unit yet ULHT and STP plans will have significant numbers of people living in the Grantham area even further than this from vital A&E services. The Trust should be giving weight to this when planning services. Our NHS Principles require health care to be provided to everyone, free at the point of delivery and based on need. If the Government, NHS England, NHSI, CCG and ULHT do not protect our services then we will, must, hold them all to account.