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Saving the NHS: What has improved in Labour’s health policy?

Labour should always be proud of creating the NHS. No less, creating it in “the aftermath of war and national bankruptcy” as our 2017 manifesto states. Labour will always be the party to save the NHS, but in recent elections it has not been able to save the Labour Party.

The Conservatives leading hospitals into deficit and missing target after target doesn’t swing everyone to the left as some might hope.

The Labour Party in recent history has fallen short of  offering the necessary solution of an injection of funding and a long term strategy – allowing the right to offer their own ‘answers’. Right-wing media and UKIP have been able to dominate the debate with ideas of privatisation, while blaming long-term users of the NHS and immigrants. Despite most voters having a personal experience with delayed treatment, long waiting lists and local hospital closures, many see the situation in the NHS as inevitable in uncertain economic circumstances and “living within our means”. Even voters that noted the Conservatives’ failings, can’t have been impressed when Labour in 2015 failed to respond with policies that adequately addressed the crisis and challenge the idea that the NHS couldn’t sustain itself. Whilst the consensus grew that the Tories should be held responsible, this was drowned out by the overwhelming narrative that Tories had ‘saved’ the economy from Labour’s reckless spending.

Convincing the electorate that Labour’s health policy is integrated as part of a sound and feasible economic plan is vital. We need to ensure that voters know Labour have the means to implement their manifesto. Importantly, this election, the connections have been made between our policies on the economy, education and social care, offering a sustainable solution to the Conservative-generated crisis. We are proposing increasing income taxes more substantially on the richest and offering large funding promises which correlate with what the NHS is calculated to desperately need, rather than tokenistic levels of funding plucked out of thin air. Additionally, confronting failings in education, mental health and social care will alleviate the burden on the NHS which has come indirectly from cuts to these sectors.

Political parties constantly fail to make the link between education and health, specifically higher education of healthcare staff. David Cameron is known for boasting about the increase in doctors and nurses he had overseen, only then for it to be pointed out that they started training before he was Prime Minister. Training and educating staff takes time, and investing in accessible education must be part of a coherent vision to prepare the NHS for the future. The healthcare system will continue to suffer if university becomes more inaccessible for mature students and those with long degrees, which are most prevalent with healthcare students. Nursing applications are down 23% this academic year, record numbers of junior doctors have emigrated or are working privately and we have yet to see the full effects of these. Morale of healthcare students and workers directly impacts how well the NHS functions, a fact the Conservatives have consistently neglected.

Ed Miliband promised to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 and now Jeremy Corbyn is pledging to scrap them, one of the policies most telling of how far the party has come. This will only make it easier for mature students from all backgrounds to re-train and ensure our NHS is sufficiently staffed. Having ignored for too long the healthcare students carrying out unpaid work in our hospitals, covering up the full extent of NHS understaffing, Labour have pledged to re-introduce healthcare bursaries.

The NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world, and NHS staff knew in 2015 that “Vote Labour to save the NHS” wasn’t enough. Two years on from 2015, the manifesto now explicitly addresses challenges faced by pharmacists, ambulance workers and hospital workers. Before, Labour pledged to train 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, and 3,000 more midwives, fully funded with taxes, but was reluctant to address systemic problems of falling real wages, inaccessible healthcare education and unsafe working hours. Supporting staff is fundamental in “saving our NHS” as we pledged, and our hospitals should be staffed at safe levels with a productive, efficient workforce that continue working in the NHS for years to come. Since 2015, the undermining of hospital workers’ rights has escalated, seen most clearly in the scandal around the new contract for junior doctors, which politicised many doctors. This has further exacerbated the problem of falling applications to study, as these are no longer careers that offer salaries or workplace protections that match their intensity. It is entirely correct that Labour’s manifesto now responds to these challenges in the modern workplace.

The Conservatives have pushed through austerity and then responded to challenges by furthering the privatisation of our services, the definition of a short term approach to financial pressures in the NHS. We cannot accept this as we did in 2015; capping the profits of private companies is not enough. Instead Labour has renewed its commitment to a fully nationalised health service, ensuring the NHS is run for patients, not for profit. The current manifesto sees a legal commitment on the Secretary of State for Health to ensure excess private profits are not made at the expense of patient care. Being explicit on re-nationalisation of services offers a strong economic foundation for Labour’s plans and re-affirms the purpose of our NHS.

This is not to say we can’t ‘cost-save’ in the NHS. Preventative healthcare and public health are becoming increasingly important to decrease the burden of chronic illness on our healthcare budget. And of course, adequate funding of mental health services prevents the exacerbation of conditions that often follows when patients have to wait months for appointments. The 2017 manifesto pledges to develop a £250 million Children’s Health Fund, increase health visitors and introduce a new Index of Child Health to measure progress against international standards (including monitoring of mental health). This is adding substance to the 2015 promises of improving preventative healthcare and it links health policy with the scandal of child poverty in this country.

We’ve moved on leaps and bounds in policy response to the social care crisis and the issues that come with an ageing population. Labour’s social care policy was very vague in 2015; promising 5,000 new home-care workers was certainly a short-term solution, not dealing adequately to the pressures we face. Since the last election, social care has become an important battleground for Labour. Theresa May’s disastrous U-turn on the ‘dementia tax’ has highlighted how out of touch the Tories really are. Furthermore, Labour’s promise of a national care service is certainly at the forefront of radically transforming the way we imagine our social care policy, showing how this 2017 manifesto is shaping the future debate around Britain’s health needs. The manifesto not only addresses the scandal of 15 minute care visits, but also unpaid carers (highlighting the money they save the government) and it links the NHS with social care services, so a single patient’s care is not fragmented and inefficient.

Under a Labour government, a new Office for Budget Responsibility for Health would oversee health spending and scrutinise this and an independent pay review body would oversee healthcare workers pay. With these policies, Labour are no longer papering over the cracks, but instead offering the urgently needed funding solutions in addition to a long term outlook. Labour’s 2017 manifesto promises to give the NHS the resources required to face the challenges of the future, as well as the ability to continue adapting to demographic changes, prioritising workers and patients throughout, not profit.

In the face of the serious pressures worsening in our NHS, Ed Miliband’s pledges to hit targets of GP appointments and cancer treatment become harder to achieve without a radical approach to the many sectors involved. If we had won the general election in 2015, these targets, without clear strategies behind them, would have been difficult, if not impossible to achieve, particularly without overhauls in higher education, social care and most importantly a substantial redistribution in wealth to prioritise these public services. It is fantastic that Labour can campaign on a manifesto where our NHS pledges are sustainable and willing to call out the Conservatives’ relentless privatisation and fragmentation of our public services for what they are.

2 Comments

  1. Bazza says:

    Yes we are safe on the NHS but the Tory Right Wing media Attack Dogs were successful last time in spooking general middle class etc. re weak Miliband and SNP potential coalition and they are testing water this time repeating this line.
    Second line of attack is Labour’s ‘Magic Money Tree’ so should go on attack and as Streeck argues rich and powerful (and Tory Lackies) haven’t a clue what to do and are using quantitative easing (electronic printing of money) to buy them time!
    SO THIS IS THE TORIES MAGIC MONEY TREE AND THEY HAVE USED £80B THIS WAY SINCE THE EC REFERENDUM RESULT! LAB 4 HOPE!

  2. Bazza says:

    Of course from 2010 we had THE COALITION OF CHAOS with the Tories and Lib Dems and attacks on the poor and billions cut from non-Tory Councils but at the same time tax cuts for corporations, millionaires, private landlords, grouse moor owners and Hedge Funds – HFs gave the Tories £50m and HFs were given tax cuts of £145m by the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition!
    And since 2015 we have had May’s Mayem with the COALITION OF CLOWNS with the Tories and Unionists DUP/UUP!
    Wolgang Streek in The New Left Review was right, with quantitative easing (electronic printing of money) the rich and powerful and their lackies here – the Tories – haven’t a clue what to do and THE TORY MAGIC MONEY TREE OF QUANTITATIVE EASING is only buying them time (£80b since the EC referendum result).
    The Tories are the slaves of Neo-Liberalism and believe we can’t intervene in the economy although when say you get a spell of good weather certain goods boost the economy by 1-2% so nature can intervene but not humans?
    Labour’s state-led public investment will help grow the economy and the private sector supply chain will pour in behind which could create more jobs and cut the benefits bill plus a £10 living wage and ending wage freezes will put more of THE POUND IN YOUR POCKET which will mean more spent on commodities to stimulate the economy further plus closing tax loopholes and tax havens will bring in more money.
    Labour has a great manifesto and has run a great campaign so far, so time for the final push and to get the vote out Thursday!
    Solidarity!

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