The Tories are destroying Labour’s golden NHS legacy

by John Healey

Another day, another 400 senior health professionals raise their alarm over the Tory-Lib Dem NHS plans.

They make the same arguments in today’s Telegraph as Labour made first last Autumn, and have been leading in opposition since – that the biggest internal reorganisation in NHS history is wasting billions on new bureaucracy, while the legislation will break up our health service with market competition replacing medical collaboration at the heart of the NHS.

David Cameron claimed a month ago “the whole health profession is on board for what is now being done”. He’s in denial about the depth of opposition to his NHS plans. And he’s in denial about the damage his government is doing, as NHS staff and patients see services cut, treatments denied and long waiting times rise.

Since he became prime minister, more than a million patients have had to wait longer for treatment in hospital and A&E than Labour’s waiting time guarantees.

More David Cameron declarations that “I love the NHS” at his conference in Manchester this week simply won’t cut it for the public.

People heard his personal NHS promises before the election. They saw his posters pledging to “cut the deficit, not the NHS”. They know that each of the promises he made then are being broken now – to “protect the NHS”; to “give the NHS a real rise in funding”; to “stop top-down NHS reorganisations”.

He worked so hard to neutralise the NHS as a political problem for his party, and by mid-September last year more people trusted the Tories than Labour with the NHS.

A year on however, Labour’s arguments are winning through and drawing strength from the wide chorus of the same adverse criticisms coming from doctors, nurses, patients groups and even some Lib Dems. By mid-September this year, the same polling confirmed that Labour has a 12-point lead on the NHS, with Lord Ashcroft’s latest survey of battleground marginals showing Labour 29 per cent ahead in the constituencies that the Tories must defend and we must win at the next election.

In truth, the Tories and Lib Dems are throwing away Labour’s golden legacy to NHS patients, of the shortest ever waiting times and highest ever satisfaction. They are discarding the proven programme of Labour reforms to improve quality, innovation, efficiency and prevention. They are destroying the goodwill of NHS staff to support further reform. And they are piling extra pressure on the NHS to make short term cuts, rather than the long-term changes needed for better and better value care.

The huge challenge of changing health needs, tighter finances and a more elderly population can only be met through more say for clinicians, more control for patients, more prevention and more integration of services across hospital, primary and community care.  These changes can all be pursued largely without legislation and certainly without the biggest-ever NHS reorganisation, which is why Labour – like the 400 medical experts – has consistently called on David Cameron to scrap the fundamental and far-reaching changes in the health bill.

This afternoon, his health secretary, Andrew Lansley, speaks to the Conservative conference.

Last year, he won easy plaudits from the party and the NHS by professing a commitment to NHS principles and pledging to cut red tape and put doctors in charge.

But in the past twelve months, Andrew Lansley has given health reform a bad name. One man who believes when everyone else says he’s wrong. The gap between what the government is saying and what it is doing on the NHS is growing greater and clearer, which is why many NHS professionals and staff don’t trust the Tories with the health service, and nor increasingly do patients and the public.

So David Cameron should this week pause once more and think again on the NHS, before the Lords begin their work on the Bill next week. As another Healey once advised, when you’re in a hole “stop digging”.

John Healey is shadow health secretary and Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne

Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “The Tories are destroying Labour’s golden NHS legacy”

  1. Nick says:

    Labour invested vast sums in the NHS. That was to make people more healthy, so they didn’t need so much of the NHS, and spending could be reduced. After all, it was investment, wasn’t it?

    So that investment has worked, hasn’t it? [or has it]

    So spending can come down now people are healthy.

    Just Labour policy.

    Spot the flaws in what Labour did.

  2. Gary says:

    “Another day, another 400 senior health professionals raise their alarm over the Tory-Lib Dem NHS plans.”

    We should remember our history and think twice before invoking ‘senior health professionls’ as a legitimate argument. We had to stuff their mouths with gold already, and they stuffed us in return under the last GP re-org.

    Form says these people are blatently self-interested.

  3. Jane says:

    I am always suspicious of professionals who oppose changes – vested interests at play. For many years we have tried and been unsuccessful at bringing change to the NHS to ensure that patients or users are given priority. The NHS is not wonderful and needs improvement. It is time that we accepted the ghastly variance in outcomes across the country. In the past decade we have had the most disgraceful salary increases (down to the last government) for our doctors with no improved activity or patient outcomes. Politicians have tried and failed abysmally to reform the service and have been successfully blocked by strong unions. Self interest of health professionals has always won the day.

    There have been some superb debates in the BMJ and in the Times about the mediocre NHS and vested interests of those employed which block change. Mr Healey like all politicians has failed to cover the real issues that need to be resolved and again turns the NHS into a political football. One of the issues raised was that we can never rely on any politician to improve the service in the interests of the patient. Similarly, we cannot rely on those employed within the NHS. It is down to us the user. As we take greater control of our health and use websites and support groups online, we become the critical user of the service and we will force the change that is needed. We need to be – Despatches on C4 last night showed us how useless PCTs and the GMC are in protecting us from poor performing GPs. There have also been so many scandals at a number of hospitals in the past decade – Stafford and now maternity services in London. Where were the politicians then in ensuring our safety?

    I want choice in healthcare. I do not have that despite all recent efforts to provide this option – again parts of the country are at variance and I do not live in a city. I do not care what doctors and nurses say about the changes. You mention patient groups – how many people do they represent? What you are doing is putting fear into us that somehow we are going to be left without care. Please do not say that you left a golden age. You left an overpaid medical profession who earn 60% more than their equivalents in places such as France (who have better health outcomes), less productivity, clinical autonomy and a huge PFI burden in the construction of new hospitals.

    Andrew Lansley has been shadow health spokesman for years. He has an excellent knowledge of the NHS – much better than you do. What is wrong with a mixed provision of healthcare as long as it is free at the point of delivery? You are out of touch with us Mr Healey…….

Leave a Reply