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Conference report: Health

This much anticipated debate, held on the last day of Conference, began with a whimper and ended with a bang. It was given a low key introduction by UNISON’s officer Keith Birch. He started by saying that he NHS was Labour’s greatest achievement but that its future is now at stake. The Con Dem Health and Social Care Act is now forcing health services out to tender and billions of pounds are being wasted to fund tendering processes. He moved on to say that we cannot accept sub standard care and abuse in care homes and staff must not be on zero hours contracts or paid the minimum wage. He made the crucial point which became the central theme of this debate is that health and social care services must be integrated t meet people’s needs; Labour will provide a good NHS.

He was followed by Jos Bell from Lewisham CLP supporting Composite 7 who spoke about the on-going campaign to prevent the closure of Lewisham Hospital. Her own life had been save din this hospital. She described the campaign as a life or death battle. 40,000 local people in all have joined several local protest marches. The hospital is rated as one of the UK’s top 40.However the Intensive Care Unit and the paediatric services have already been closed without consultation. Already NHS services in Lewisham are strained to breaking point. Similar issues are arising in Ealing and Hammersmith. She decried the “smash and grab raid on the NHS while older people queue on trollies.” She also demanded a high quality NHS and that “Labour turns the tide on fragmentation.”

This was seconded by Rachel White of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central CLP. She expressed fears that the UK NHS will end up like the terrible USA health services where poorer people can often not get treatment. She lamented that the NHS currently faces having to make £20 billion efficiency savings; “The NHS is being choked till it dies and it will never be safe in Tory of Liberal Democrat hands. The Tories are dividing the NHS into party bags to give to their friends.” She reminded us that the last Labour Government reduced waiting times for elective surgery from and average 18 months to 18 weeks.

Dr Nik Johnston a GP and Parliamentary candidate for Huntingdon recalled how Neil Kinnock had once warned people that in the event of a Tory government “ to be ordinary or to get sick or old”. In the early 1990s he had personally suffered a trolley wait when he had appendicitis. But Labour had saved the NHs in the later 1990s and it registered the highest public satisfaction then. Since 2101 NHS workers have become scared for themselves and their patients. We need to re-build an integrated and co ordinated One Nation NHS.

Emma Clifford a care worker representing Cheltenham CLP made the subsequently repeated point that care workers need to be given enough time to care. “This means time to care for the whole person not just to give minimal physical care to them. Sometimes there is not sufficient time even to give care at this basic level and some physical needs can’t be met which is difficult for the carer to accept. Sometimes the worker has to decide which aspects of essential care to omit. The problem is getting worse as the number of very elderly people increases especially in places like Cheltenham. The Government is putting services out to competition but we need collaboration not competition in the NHS.”

Linda Hobson of UNISON herself nurse stressed that the Tory/Liberal re-organisation of the NHS was voted for by no one. In her Tyneside Trust, since April 2013, 21 contracts have been let to the private sector but only four to the NHS. 21,000 NHS jobs in total have been lost this year already. “The Government blames everyone but themselves but they don’t look in their own mirror. The next Labour Government must introduce a seamless and joined up service. There cannot be a two tier system as between health and social care. The pay and conditions of social care staff should be raised to the level of NHS staff. As Ed Miliband says: we need a race to the top not to the bottom.”

Lynne MC Innes of UNITE called fro an end to pay freezes in the NHS and the downgrading of staff posts. She joked that Virgin Care had won the contract to provide sexual health services in her Trust. But seriously complained that they don’t re-invest in services and that their profits all go to shareholders.

Mary Turner of the GMB asserted that Jeremy Hunt knows nothing about running hospitals. She regretted that services to prevent child obesity and treat diabetes are being neglected. A Labour Government should re-prioritise these. “ If we can afford to buy weapons of war we can afford to pay for these services.”

Rema Patel of Barnet CLP Had bee born deaf but due to early diagnosis and excellent care in her local NHS she had done well at school, attended Cambridge University and is now a qualified social worker. She asserted, ”The NHS is our most precious asset and my personal most precious asset. Now companies are making large profits from the NHS, standards are falling and more people are dying. The NHS is the bedrock of a progressive society.”

It was pleasing to have a major debate in which a significant number of union and constituency delegates were permitted to speak. This should be the norm and not the exception. However the hierarchy is still fond of bringing on hand picked non delegates, who only represent themselves, to speak. Next was a panel session chaired by Shadow Community Care minister Liz Kendall (Who herself can be quite impressive).She interviewed Gladys, a nurse who told of the joy she gets in helping the sick and that the biggest achievement of the NHS is free health for all. The main aim of the NHS should be to care for patients. Meanwhile we were waiting to hear the major speech from Andy Burnham.

Next came Cathy, a former Scottish delegate, who had fallen seriously ill at the last Liverpool Conference and who received excellent NHS surgery there and was enabled by the NHS system to return to the consultant at Liverpool for follow up care. Then there was Aston who had his life save d at Lewisham hospital when he was 13. He has now joined the Save the Lewisham Hospital campaign and has written and played a campaign song on TV and on the demonstrations.

Finally cam Aneura Thomas the first baby born in the NHs and named fro Aneurin Bevan. She recalled that she did not know any of her grandparents as all had died in middle age being unable to afford health care in the 1930s. Nye Bevan had founded the NHs as a result of the poverty and illness he had seen in the Welsh Valleys. She complained that Cameron has taken the NHs backwards and put it at risk. Nye Bevan’s values must stand to-day. Her own life has been saved by the NHs twice this year.

And now what we had all been waiting for: the concluding speech by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham. He started by recalling that in one day 80 years ago the Party had taken the decision to create the NHS. While the NHS has served us well the care of older people has never been as we really want it. We now need to unite health and social care into a unitary service to look after all the needs of older people and others.

He continued, “The Tories are running down the NHS and selling it off. Major Tory donors are actually buying parts of it. Their average donations to the Conservatives are £1.5 million but this secures them parts of the NHs worth an average of £1.5 billion. Who gave this Prime Minister permission to sell the NHS to his friends? Cameron poses as a friend of the NHS but his friends cant lose an patients cant win. Many NHS hospitals now have to get half their income from treating private patients. The NHS doing more private work will mean the loss of thousands of cataract and knee operations on the NHS. How this affects you depends on where you live. In some you will have to suffer or pay. Patients will have to carry credit cards to pay as they do in the USA. Clegg is as culpable as Cameron. Neither bedroom tax, tuition fees nor NHS privatisation appeared in the last Tory election manifesto.

I million people are now waiting more than four hours to be treated in A and E Departments. This summer we have had to first summer A and E Department crisis in NHS history. The country can see that the NHs is under sustained attack. The Labour leadership will fight for the NHS; so will you me and all of us. We are Labour fro a public NHS against Cameron’s market. The public will support us in putting compassion over competition. The public belief in the NHS runs across the political spectrum. NHS values are Labour values. We cannot continue with a malnourished social care system in which users are restricted to 15 minute slots and where staff get the National Minimum Wage. Too many older people are being rushed to hospital in blue light ambulances for lack of earlier social care.

We will care for our[elderly]Mums and Dads and for everyone’s Mums and Dads. We need whole person care and a service that looks after the people who care. All who need it must have high quality home based support; a right to be cared for at home. Community based care staff must be able to look after their service users in hospital as well as at home. There must be person centred team work. We need integrated care but the Tories dislike this as it makes privatisation more difficult so they call integrated care “anti competitive”.

We will repeal the Tory Health and Social Care Act in Labour’s first year of government. An umber of Labour Councils are already running integrated health and asocial care services. We will have a national heath and care service based on the needs o people not profit. Let’s find a new spirit of 1945 in 2015. NHS values are Labour values and the country’s values. Let Labour again make history!”

This was arousing speech and was received by a standing ovation.

The promise of an integrated health and social care service is long overdue. One nub of the problem sis that in England and Wales (but not Scotland) social care is not free at the point of use -unlike health care. It has led to many injustices. For example :if a service users’ overall needs are defined as health they can be bathed free if the needs are seen to be social they have to pay to be bathed (or at least means tested. No one has ever been able to define the difference between a health care bath and a social care bath! The Royal Commission on the Long Term care of the Elderly reported in 1999 and recommended that health and social care for the elderly and disabled be free at the point of use. The Blair government said this could not be afforded so we were stuck with the present unfair system. The Scottish Government of the day accepted this report and made all health and social care free. Andy Burnham did not raise this issue about payment but Labour in the rest of the UK should adopt the Scottish practice.

It is all very well to decry the real inadequacies of the present system but they are largely due to most of the community based social care services now being in private hands. This has led to the poor wages and service conditions of staff and to cutting corners in the service. At a Conference seminar in 2012 I asked Andy Burnham whether a Labour Government would return to most or all of the social care services being provided in the public sector but he would not give any commitment to this. As a former social services departmental training manager, I am clear that adult care training and service standards are invariably much better in local authority than in the private profit making sector. I also believe that health and social care of the vulnerable are too important to be left to organisations where making profit is the main objective.

When we justly lambast Cameron and the Con Dem government for privatisation of the NHS we should recall that they only accelerated what Blair and Brown Governments started . Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson once complained that whenever Tony Blair gave him more money for the NHS he also demanded more privatisation. It was TB who introduced private Diagnostic and Treatment units to work with NHS patients. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both pushed the system of ‘patent choice’ where NHS patients were encouraged to opt to be treated in private hospitals and clinics.

As former Labour MP Dr Lynne Jones prophesied, in 2009, “We are privatising parts of the NHS and so are paving the way for a Tory Government to take privatisation much further.”

So bravo for the proposed integrated care service but lets make it workable fair and run on the basis of labour’s long established NHS values of : free at the point of use, available equally everywhere in the UK, able to meet every health and social care need and publicly provided. Let’s also acknowledge New Labour’s past mistakes in this field and learn from them.

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