The Labour Party has been critical of Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement that there will be no additional cash boost for the NHS in the Autumn Statement.
It had been hoped that the outcome of Brexit would force the government’s hand into an investment-based strategy for the healthcare system.
But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary has opined that in the NHS is dangerously overstretched, and suggested that the government has failed to address the situation adequately.
Indeed, Ashworth argued that blame for the situation can be reasonably and primarily apportioned to the government itself, stating that the problems are of the “government’s own making”.
“The NHS is facing a funding crisis with hospitals, GP surgeries and social care dangerously overstretched Just last week we were warned the social care sector was on the verge of ‘tipping point’. One in four patients are waiting a week or more to see their GP, or not getting an appointment at all, and thousands of patients are waiting hours in A&E and hospital trolleys,” Ashworth asserted.
“The crisis is of this Government’s own making and it’s up to Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt to take action…the Tories promised during the last election they’d properly fund our NHS. This is yet another example of Tory broken promises,” Ashworth added.
Medics had already warned that critical NHS systems are close to breaking point, and that staff reductions and redundancies are on the cards if further investment is not allocated to the healthcare system.
But an NHS source close to the government told the The Guardian newspaper that there are no plans to increase funding.
“No 10’s message at the meeting was quite blunt and stark: that there will be no more money. Theresa May and Philip Hammond say that they presided over big efficiency programmes at the Home Office and MoD and didn’t whinge about it. Their view is that the NHS is already doing very well, but that’s head in the sand stuff.”
Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, has already made bleak prognostications for the prospects of the NHS this winter.
“The NHS is on its knees and, this winter, areas will implode around the country. There is no reserve left. We coined the phrase ‘eternal winter’ months ago in relation to increasingly poor performance and this data is clear evidence that is what we are now dealing with. Over the coming weeks and months, if we see a major increase in admissions due to flu or bed closures due to norovirus, we will collapse”.
Holland also characterised the attitude of the government as bordering on negligent.
“The Government has failed to acknowledge or address the scale of the crisis in social care and delayed discharges and, at present, I see no plan of action in place to prevent it derailing the health service. If we are unable to discharge patients and release pressure on our emergency departments and acute medical units at the front door, the system grinds to a halt”.
NHS trusts accrued a collective deficit of £2.5 billion during the previous financial year.
The Labour party has asserted that the government has lost total control of NHS finances.
This is a strong statement from the Opposition to the government follows a revelation from a health minister regarding the fiscal state of the health service.
The minister in question reported that 75 per cent of NHS trusts were reporting a deficit over the first half of the existing financial year.
But parliamentary under secretary of state for care quality Ben Gummer later insisted ministers were “confident we’ll be able to get hospital trusts into balance next year”.
This latest parliamentary clash follows a general atmosphere of conflict in the Commons over the issue of the NHS.
The Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been continually critical of the government approach to the NHS.
By contrast, David Cameron’s Conservative government has asserted that it has the long-term interests of the healthcare at heart, and even insisted that the NHS should change its culture to a seven-day service.
Yet figures have already revealed that an overall deficit in the region of £2 billion is expected during the existing financial year.
This comes in the context of the Conservative government demanding efficiency savings worth £22 billion by the end of the decade.
The aforementioned Gummer told MPs during Commons health questions that “three-quarters of trusts are reporting a deficit for the conclusion of the first half of this financial year.”
Numerous MPs were keen to outline the situation in their own particular constituencies.
Labour’s Anna Turley (Redcar) stated “John Appleby the chief economist from the independent think-tank The King’s Fund has said recently that although the Government claims it will get an increase in funding in the NHS, it has in effect already spent the money, because of the scale of the hospital deficits. In my own area of South Tees the deficit for 2014/15 is nearly £17 million. Will the minister accept that the Government has totally lost control of NHS finances?”
Gummer sturdily defended the Conservative government against Labour accusations, pointing out the significant investment promised.
“The first point to make is that this Government has provided the money for the NHS that it itself has asked for, money that the Opposition refused to say it would pledge at the last election. The second is that Jim Mackey, the new chief executive of NHS Improvement, one of the best chief executives in the NHS, has said that he will help to get hospital trusts in control next year and with the transformation fund announced by my right honourable friend, we’re confident we’ll be able to get hospital trusts into balance next year.”
With the Labour party having recently reshuffled its shadow cabinet, the NHS is expected to be a political battleground for the remaining years of this Parliament.
Regardless of the claims of the government, there is absolutely no doubt that the health service faces major funding problems, and that the amount of money pledged to address these issues is clearly insufficient.
As the political debate over the future of the NHS continues to intensify, the government is locked in an increasingly testy debate with the Labour opposition.
And now the financial plans that the government has put in place for the NHS have been strongly criticised.
The government’s promise of a £3.8 billion financial boost for the NHS in England next year has “unravelled” according to the Labour party.
In response to the plans of the Conservative party to increase spending by around 4 per cent of the annual budget, Labour asserted that the money would be almost entirely consumed by covering existing hospital deficits and pensions costs.
The Conservatives rejected the concerns of the Opposition.
“We’re helping hospitals improve finances with tough controls on agency staff and management consultants and introducing some cost-saving measures identified by the government efficiency adviser Lord Carter,” the Department of Health contested.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had announced additional expenditure of £3.8 billion in real terms on top of NHS England’s £100bn-a-year budget in the November spending review.
Yet economic experts support the position of the Labour opposition.
Commenting on the issue, the chief economist from health think tank The King’s Fund, John Appleby, stated that although the government had agreed to provide further funding for the health service, the NHS has effectively already spent the money.
Appleby also asserted that the NHS faces an “unprecedented” challenge in the coming years, and would be starting the forthcoming financial year with a deficit, and with extra costs ahead.
In addition to a large proportion of the extra finance being swallowed up by the funding of NHS trusts, national insurance issues related to pensions will also cause problems for the government.
A new single state pension is shortly to be introduced, which will mean higher employer contributions for NHS staff.
The Labour party believes that the additional pension contributions will cost £1.1 billion per year.
“George Osborne’s promise of extra money to the NHS is more spin than substance. The scale of the financial challenge facing the NHS means that there are now real doubts about whether this money will be sufficient to repair hospital finances, let alone deliver the Tories’ promise of a seven-day NHS,” Labour’s shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said.
Responding to the claims of the Labour party, the government defended its financial pledge. In particular, the Department of Health questioned the figures provided by the Labour party.
Officials stated that it was wrong to assume that the £2.2bn total projected deficit for trusts this financial year would continue through next year, owing to efficiency savings.
However, considering the massive financial issues that the NHS faces, it seems increasingly unlikely that the money pledged by the government will have a serious impact on the health service.
The final Prime Minister’s Questions of 2015 is indicative of the political battleground that the NHS will be in the remainder of this parliament.
Jeremy Corbyn blasted David Cameron over the looming winter crisis in the NHS during the PMQs session.
Corbyn seems to have particularly focused on the NHS, both because he is committed to the future of the health service, and also because it provides fertile ground for political point scoring.
The clashes in parliament comes after a report revealed a £2.2bn funding black hole in the NHS, with two-thirds of hospitals expected to end the year in deficit.
With the NHS predicted to have a £30 billion deficit black hole between now and the end of the decade, there is massive financial pressure on the health service.
And despite the Tories offering in excess of £8 billion extra funding by 2020, there is still clearly a gulf between finance and the reality of day-to-day NHS requirements.
While the Conservative party has suggested that the NHS needs to make huge efficiency savings, it seems increasingly certain that this will not be enough the plug the hole.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn said the number of days patients have to stay in hospital because there is nowhere safe to discharge them to has doubled.
But the Prime Minister said the average stay in hospital had gone down from five-and-a-half days to five days during his term in office.
Highlighting the difference in perception between the two political opponents, Corbyn also chose to highlight the issue of nurses’ educational funding.
He finished PMQs with a question from a constituent named Abby, who prompted Corbyn to ask: “In the spirit of Christmas will the PM have a word with his friend the Chancellor to reverse the cuts in the nurse bursary scheme so we get people like Abby training as midwives?”
Mr Corbyn also quoted the PM’s own words from 2011, when he said: “Information is power. It helps people help the powerful to account”.
“Is it because the number of people waiting on trolleys in A&E has gone up fourfold that he doesn’t want to publish this data?”
But Mr Cameron insisted the data releases that have been cancelled over the winter were never published during Labour’s time in office.
With the Conservative government having already signalled its inention to switch to a seven-day culture in the NHS, it is clear that there will be more parliamentary battles to come on this topic.
It seems that there is a dichotomy between the government’s position and reality at present.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had emerged unscathed from a public petition of 220,000 people calling for his removal from this critical Cabinet position.
Unite, the country’s largest union, had encouraged members of parliament from all political parties to back a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Health Secretary.
Jeremy Hunt, the current Conservative secretary of health, has been central in the announcement of the highly publicised seven-day NHS plan, which has received the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron.
MPs this week debated the issue in Parliament, while Hunt also appeared before a Select Committee to defend his record as Health Secretary.
But The Guardian newspaper reported that Hunt gave a very confident performance before the committee, while the motion in parliament was defeated.
Despite this development, the Unite union continues to strongly criticise the performance of Hunt.
Indeed, Barry Brown MP, who strongly backed the Unite initiative, suggested that Hunt is in fact “one of the worst health secretaries since the NHS was formed in 1948”.
Brown also suggested that plans related to seven-day NHS services were fundamentally flawed, and that Hunt had in fact failed to understand the existing NHS culture.
The MP stated that he considers Hunt to be “the Health Secretary who has been more critical of health service staff since the creation of the NHS than any of his predecessors, yet now he pushes for seven-day services from staff whose value and commitment he clearly questions at nearly every opportunity.”
Brown also suggested that Hunt was guilty of significant hypocrisy with regard to his stance on NHS pay.
“Hunt’s relentless push for seven-day services – which are already there – is set against the background of not only being the richest member of David Cameron’s cabinet, but the one who denies a one per cent pay increase to NHS staff by rejecting the recommendations from the respected independent pay review body,” Brown opined.
While the Unite union has been extremely negative about the performance of the Conservative Health Secretary, it has taken a much more positive view over the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
In the opinion of Unite, Corbyn has taken a principled position on the NHS, and his attitude to politics has inspired both young and old folk alike.
However, it should be said in mitigation that the Unite support for Corbyn, and indeed arguably its opposition to Hunt, may not be considered entirely surprising.
Corbyn is almost ubiquitously referred to as a left-wing socialist, drawn from the traditional stock of the Labour party, which always enjoyed strong links with trade unions.
Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that the elevation of Corbyn to the position of Labour leader can help stimulate a valuable debate on the future of the health service.
As part of the process of his taking over the leadership of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a shadow “Minister for Mental Health”.
Luciana Berger is the new addition to the Corbyn shadow cabinet.
Berger will have a remit to specifically focus on mental health issues, and consider how the NHS can tackle them more effectively in the immediate future.
A Corbyn-led Labour government would apparently prioritise this issue, as evidenced by the fact that this post is a new creation of Corbyn’s shadow administration.
There is no equivalent to position within the Conservative government.
Aside from the uniqueness of the position, it is also notable that this shadow cabinet role will be carried out by a female member of Parliament.
Corybn was keen to emphasise in a statement that the Labour party had “delivered a unifying, dynamic, inclusive new Shadow Cabinet which for the first time ever has a majority of women. I am delighted that we have established a Shadow Cabinet position for mental health which is a matter I have long been interested in.”
Berger is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and was elected initially to the seat in 2010. She is notable for having created a film entitled ‘Breadline Britain’, examining food poverty within the UK and its implications.
To demonstrate his commitment to mental health, Corbyn spent his first day as leader attending a fundraiser organised by Camden & Islington NHS Mental Health Trust; his local trust.
In addition, Corbyn has demonstrated in parliamentary speeches before becoming leader of the Labour Party that mental health is a subject of some importance to him.
In a speech in Parliament in February, Corbyn outlined his attitude to mental health and why he considered the subject of critical importance.
“All of us can go through depression; all of us can go through those experiences. Every single one of us in this Chamber knows people who have gone through it, and has visited people who have been in institutions and have fully recovered and gone back to work and continued their normal life,” Corby stated.
“I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one Prime Minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions,” the Labour leader continued.
Bergen will be asked to concentrate on ensuring that treatment is delivered in a timely and appropriate fashion.
Corbyn also stated that processes involved in the recognition of mental disabilities within the Department for Work and Pensions would be refined under a Labour government.
The shadow cabinet has been announced by Corbyn as he continues to put in place the structure that will form the parliamentary Labour party under his tutelage.