21st January 2015
The scale of the problems currently unfolding in the NHS is truly shocking. Over the last 12 months more than a million people have waited over four hours in A&E and this month has seen several hospitals declare ‘major incidents’.
It is looking more and more like the situation back in 1997, where Labour inherited an NHS in a similarly perilous state from the previous Tory Government, with a permanent winter crisis and patients languishing for hours on trolleys in A&E.
It was against this backdrop that Labour set about rescuing and rebuilding the NHS, including by 2004 introducing a new A&E waiting-time standard to ensure people coming to A&E were seen within four hours. By 2010, 98 per cent of patients were.
So why, having improved so dramatically between 2004 and 2010, has A&E deteriorated so markedly since David Cameron was elected?
The answer is that the Tory-led Government has not only caused an NHS workforce crisis and turned the health service upside down with a damaging, top-down reorganisation, but has systematically set about stripping back and dismantling the services that keep people healthy outside hospital, like GP services and elderly care. The result has been a devastating surge in the numbers coming to hospital A&Es – with numbers increasing by 600,000 during the four years of this Tory-led Government, 10 times faster than the 60,000 increase during the last four years of the previous Labour Government.
First, David Cameron has made it harder to see a GP. One of the Tory-led Government’s first acts was to scrap the guarantee of a GP appointment within 48 hours; incredibly, they described it as “no longer a priority”. Ministers also cut Labour’s scheme to ensure GP evening and weekend opening, having consistently opposed it while in Opposition. On top of this, the Government’s own taskforce say we are witnessing “a GP workforce crisis”. And nearly a quarter of NHS walk-in centres have been closed since 2010 too.
The result is that more than one in four people now waits a week or more to see a GP or don’t get an appointment at all – and in desperation many turn to A&E instead.
Second, we have the unfolding tragedy of the collapse of elderly care services – highlighted in today’s Age UK ‘scorecard’.
If you want to know about the character of this Tory-led Government, then you need look no further than the fact that while millionaires have had a tax cut, elderly care has been cut to the bone, hitting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Government figures show that 300,000 fewer older people now get help with their care compared to 2010. For those receiving care, the service has become an increasingly malnourished, minimum-wage business with many visits limited to just 15 minutes. Hundreds of thousands of older people now face a desperate daily struggle to get the help and support they need.
Again, the impact on A&E has been all too apparent and this simply cannot go on.
Labour has set out a number of immediate steps that the Government could take to stem the crisis, such as encouraging local areas to place GPs in major A&Es and asking councils and the NHS to identify people at highest risk of hospitalisation and link them up with support.
But we are also setting out plans to rescue and strengthen the NHS for the long term.
First, we will tackle the workforce crisis by raising an extra £2.5bn a year for the NHS – funded by measures including a tax on properties worth over £2 million and a levy on the tobacco companies – to pay for 8,000 more GPs and 20,000 more nurses.Today, we have tabled a motion in Parliament to challenge the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to match these plans.
Second, we will guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours, and on the same day if you need it, as well as ensuring that people have the right to book further ahead with the GP of their choice.
Third, we are determined to bring health and social care services together to ensure older people finally get the care and support they deserve. This means improving standards and tackling the scourge of care visits limited to 15 minutes. It also means joining up services by giving those with complex needs a single point of contact for their care needs.
The 2015 election and Labour’s rescue package cannot come soon enough. If services continue deteriorating at the rate they are, under five more years of Tory government, we would see two million people every year waiting over four hours in A&E, over 20 million people waiting a week or more for a GP appointment, and the numbers of older people receiving social care cut by a further half a million.
Our health service simply cannot withstand five more years of David Cameron.
21st January 2015