Unite has welcomed Labour’s rescue plan for the NHS, which will plough £26bn in real terms to resuscitate a health service on its knees after a decade of cuts under successive Tory governments.
The plan, which will be funded by reversing corporation tax cuts and taxing the wealthiest in society, will equate to a 4.3 per cent funding increase over the next four years and exceeds the Tory party’s funding pledges by £6bn in real terms.
Labour’s proposals will mean NHS capital expenditure will rise to the international average. The plans include £1bn a year in training and education budgets to tackle staff shortages and will also include a major £1bn expansion of public health services in an effort to prevent people becoming ill in the first place — a move which will also tackle endemic health inequalities now ravaging communities up and down the country.
The latest funding pledges come in addition to other measures already announced by Labour to revitalise the NHS in a bid to make the UK’s health service the envy of the world.
Labour will tackle the staffing crisis in the NHS by reinstating the nursing bursary to train more than 24,000 nurses and midwives; it will also expand GP training places to 5,000 a year, which will help to deliver 27m more GP appointments.
The substantial increase in funding Labour says will massively improve wait times at A&Es and for routine operations such as knee and hip replacements — at a time when targets for wait times have been missed three successive years running.
A Labour government has also pledged to end hospital parking charges, scrap all prescription charges in England and ensure mental health parity through serious investment, not just lip service.
Mental health will be top priority through an extra £1.6bn a year spent to fund counselling services in schools, community mental health hubs for young people and community services for severe mental illness, with 24/7 crisis care.
Labour has moreover pledged to end all privatisation of the NHS — and has committed to protecting the service from Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal with Donald Trump which the party says will risk funnelling £500m a week out of the NHS to big US drug companies.
Labour’s plans were announced on Tuesday (November 12) at the home of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Unveiling the plans, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, “The world-class health service we all need and depend on needs proper funding.
“Labour’s policies to tax the richest in society and invest for the future through our Social Transformation Fund mean we will be able to improve millions of lives.
“And ending privatisation means that money can be spent on healthcare rather than dividends for Boris Johnson’s friends in the private healthcare industry.”
Shadow health secretary John Ashworth highlighted that a decade of Tory cuts has sent the NHS into a “year round crisis”.
“Over 15,000 beds have been cut, hospitals are crumbling and our NHS is chronically short of nurses and family doctors,” he said.
“Just last week we all were shocked by the heart-breaking image of an 88 year old woman, left languishing for hours and hours on a trolley in a hospital corridor,” Ashworth added.
“With experts warning this winter is set to be one of the worst the truth is our NHS is crying out for a financial rescue plan to deliver real change for patients.
“We are announcing the levels of investment our NHS needs to not only again provide the quality care our sick and elderly deserve but secures the NHS for the future as well. We’ll invest more to prevent people becoming ill in the first place and we’ll give mental health and wellbeing a greater priority than ever before.
‘Sigh of relief’
Unite was joined be a number of other organisations in applauding Labour’s proposals for the NHS, including the Nuffield Trust.
“In recent years the NHS budget has grown far more slowly than it needs to, piling huge pressure on staff,” said Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards. “The strain is showing with over 100,000 vacancies, almost insurmountable waiting times and GP numbers falling for the first time since the 1960s. This new money would mean the NHS could breathe a sigh of relief. The extra money for investment in building and equipment is desperately needed and it is particularly encouraging to see some of this go towards general practice.
“A 4 per cent increase a year will make a big difference compared to the 1.4 per cent average the NHS has grown used to in recent years,” he added. “It is enough to get most waiting times back on track over time, but tough decisions will still have to be made.”
Unite national officer Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe agreed.
Labour’s rescue plan for the NHS, with a real terms increase of £26bn in day-to-day NHS spending over the next five years, is precisely what is needed to make up for a decade of underfunding overseen by this and previous Tory-led governments,” he said.
“Taken together with Labour’s carefully devised plans to tackle the NHS staffing crisis; invest in public health to prevent ill-health in the first place; make mental health and wellbeing a serious priority; rebuild crumbling facilities and end privatisation in the health service, among other measures, makes Labour’s over all rescue plan a welcome “new deal’ for patients and NHS staff alike.
“Again the party has proven that it is only through Labour that the NHS can be saved from the existential crisis it now faces. We cannot trust the Tories with our NHS.”
Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say that Unite will be pushing an incoming Labour government to further address chronic staffing shortages in the NHS by ensuring “we do not return to the days of the public sector pay cap”.
He said, “The pay and conditions for working in the NHS should be a key element in helping attract and retain valued and skilled employees.”