Just days after chancellor Phillip Hammond hardly bothered to mention the NHS in his Autumn Statement, the Labour party launched a major campaign on Saturday (November 26) in support of the beleaguered health service.
Labour hosted more than 500 different Care for the NHS events across the UK, making Saturday the biggest campaign day for the Labour party outside a general election in its history.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that the new government under the leadership of Theresa May is no different from the previous Tory government in its shocking neglect of the NHS, which is now facing its biggest ever financial squeeze.
“The Conservatives are failing our health service, which has been pushed into financial crisis and soaring deficits,” he said in a speech on Saturday launching the campaign.
“Patients are facing longer waits, with hospitals overcrowded, understaffed and threatened with closure,” Corbyn added. “Labour will stand up for the NHS. We will always make sure the NHS has the funding it needs and will join up services from home to hospital with a properly integrated health and social care service. Labour created the NHS to care for us all, now it’s time to care for the NHS.”
Labour has identified just how desperately the NHS needs to be properly funded – it is facing its worst deficits ever recorded at £2.45bn. Nearly 4m patients in England are languishing on waiting lists waiting to start treatment, and nearly 2m people waited four hours or more to be seen at A&E last year – up 400 percent since 2010.
As many patients can attest to, getting an appointment with a GP is often all but impossible, and the figures bear this out – one in four patients have to wait a week or longer to see or even speak to a GP or nurse, with many patients not securing an appointment at all.
The government has come under fire for repeating time and again the claim that it is giving the NHS an extra £10bn – just last week the independent UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) publicly chastised the government for using misleading figures after the Labour party asked the authority to investigate the claim.
As UNITElive has previously reported, the government moved the goalposts by adding one extra year to the spending review period when it said it would give the NHS the extra £10bn it had asked for. The government has also failed to publicly acknowledge that any extra funding for the NHS has been undermined by cuts to the wider department of health’s budget.
Patients and health staff across the UK hoped some extra funding might be announced in the Autumn Statement, but they were sorely disappointed – the NHS was hardly even mentioned.
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP condemned the omission.
“The Autumn Statement revealed that for the Tories, the NHS is always at the back of the queue,” he said. “It’s jaw dropping that when the NHS is facing the biggest financial squeeze in its history – when waiting lists are at four million, when A&Es are in crisis – that the Autumn Statement contained not a single penny piece of extra investment for social care and the NHS.
“Instead the Conservatives have ignored the chorus of voices pleading for them to address the mess they’ve created in social care with cuts to budgets of £4.5bn,” Ashworth added. “The crisis in social care is such that thousands more older and disabled people face being left without access to services.”
At Labour’s Care for the NHS events held on Saturday, activists set up stalls, handed out leaflets, asked people to sign a petition and had conversations with passers-by over their concerns for the NHS.
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter attended her local event on Saturday in Tunbridge Wells near London and highlighted the tremendous public interest.
“We were overwhelmed by people wanting to sign the petition – 150 people in two hours in a Tory heartland,” she said. “People know the NHS needs more money and they are not afraid to say so.”
Carpenter noted that Unite members in the health sector were out in full force on Saturday, talking to the public about three key health policy areas the union has focused on.
One issue is deep backdoor cuts to school nursing and health visiting after their commissioning was transferred from the NHS to local authorities. Funded in part by the public health budget, which isn’t ring-fenced, school nursing and health visiting now face massive cuts and recent strides made in recruitment might now all be reversed.
Another health policy area Unite is focusing on is cuts to acute services – the new Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), which have been shrouded in secrecy, are in Unite’s view, a mere guise for delivering more cuts and could cause further closures of local hospitals and A&E departments.
Unite is also at the forefront in the fight for better mental health services which are reeling from underfunding, low staff morale and increased workloads.
Carpenter praised Labour’s Care for the NHS campaign, arguing that it was needed now more than ever.
“A big, nationwide campaign like this is exactly what we need,” she said. “It brings focus to the NHS and reminds people that the crisis the health service is now suffering is the direct cause of policy decisions – it isn’t because the NHS is simply rubbish.”
Carpenter noted that if there is one thing that brings so many people together from all different backgrounds it is concern for the NHS, so a big campaign like Labour’s has the potential to be a great unifying force.
“People are so passionate about the NHS,” she said.
Carpenter sharply criticised the chancellor for ignoring the NHS in his Autumn Statement.
“I was disgusted. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this government does not want to resolve the crisis facing the NHS. They simply don’t believe in the principles of public, universally guaranteed healthcare – they are deliberately allowing the NHS to fail so that they can privatise it.”
You can sign the Labour party’s petition and find out more about its Care for the NHS campaign and how you can get involved here.