Whitehaven News column – 8th January 2015

And they’re off! No sooner had you thought about getting one last curry, pie or soup from the Christmas turkey than the general election campaign burst into life before you could get the tree down.
Unfortunately for David Cameron, his opening campaign poster of a road heading into sunlit uplands featured a photograph of a road near Weimar in Germany. Wunderbar. UKIP has yet to respond to this outrage, maybe because its leader has given up the drink for January, but all in all it’s been (for political anoraks at least) a pretty breathless start to 2015.
Squadrons of political journalists and commentators have predicted that you, the public, have already had enough of this campaign – I suggested last week that you will have had enough by the end of January – but I’ve had enough of the media cynicism already. 
Like it or not, this general election will be vital for Copeland. As I’ve written before, an economy like ours based upon  public spending (whether you like this or not, it’s a fact and yes, this does include Sellafield) will be hit even harder with the continuation of a government that wants to reduce public spending to levels last seen in the 1930’s. 
You’ll continue to hear these arguments, but the stand out feature of the last few weeks has been the nation-wide turmoil that the NHS finds itself in. Hospital after hospital has declared ‘major incident’ status, some hospital trusts have told patients not to attend A&E because they are full, ambulances have been queuing in their dozens for hours on end outside of full to bursting A&E units, operations have been cancelled because hospitals don’t have any capacity to undertake their routine work and patients are even being treated in tents. You read that correctly. The indelible symbol of David Cameron’s treatment of the NHS is of patients being treated in tents outside of overflowing A&E units.
That most of us are now living longer is a good thing. We should celebrate it. But it has always been obvious that this would change the nature of the demands placed upon the NHS and that is why the government’s decision to reorganise the NHS at a time of growing demand has been – as predicted – so catastrophic. Not only did this take over £3 billion away from front line services, it caused organisational chaos and the truth is that the NHS, locally and nationally has not yet settled. On top of this, chaos in primary care with more and more people struggling to get an appointment with their GP is pushing more people towards A&E. Little wonder patients in the over-crowded Cumberland Infirmary have been told to “pretend they’re camping” …
I visited A&E and CHOC at the West Cumberland at 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve to see how things were going. The staff are doing a remarkable job in extremely difficult circumstances – they deserve our respect and support. 
It’s wrong for any politician to berate anyone for using a public service that they have paid for with their taxes, so I’m uncomfortable with the snifiness from some quarters about people attending A&E. But we should always help our medics out and use the service responsibly. It goes without saying, really.

So please don’t switch off, please ignore the manufactured cynicism and please grit your teeth until polling day, because whatever you think of politics and politicians, at this general election the NHS is on the ballot paper.

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