On Sunday, ahead of today’s Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced very welcome new investment in the NHS for next year on the back of the strong economy that this Government is delivering.
That’s £1.7 billion extra for frontline care, and £1 billion of funding over four years for better primary care. I am proud of the strides that the NHS has already made since the last election, with more transparency about poor care and huge progress on cancer and dementia.
These have not, however, stopped health being a political hot potato. Here are five reasons why the Autumn Statement disproves what Labour have been saying on the NHS.
1. Labour claim that only they will deliver extra money for the NHS.
At his conference, Ed Miliband positioned himself as the man to ‘save’ the NHS with a new funding package – through a mansion tax that in practice would apply to houses most people would never describe as ‘mansions’. The Autumn Statement shows that the best way to secure long-term funding for the NHS is not Labour’s new taxes, but prudent policies that grow the economy. And, unlike Labour, we do not say it is only about money: money must go with reform, which is why on Monday I announced the four pillars of the government’s plan to prepare the NHS for the challenges of an ageing population.
2. Labour say “privatisation that is the biggest issue in the NHS – ignoring the poor care that was their legacy.
NHS England’s Five-Year Forward View for the NHS, now accepted by all parties and being funded in the Autumn Statement, doesn’t mention privatisation and competition once – completely contradicting Andy Burnham’s rhetoric about “selling off the NHS”.
At the same time as inventing a fictional problem, Labour ignore a real one – their own legacy of poor care. Mid Staffs was perhaps the worst care scandal in this country’s history, and under Labour the problems continued for four whole years before anyone put a stop to them. Just as Labour refused to accept the problems of poor care in England before, they continue to stick their heads in the sand about poor care in Labour-controlled Wales today, which leads to many avoidable tragedies.
3. They say that anything other than a Labour Government would see the NHS in ‘full-blown’ crisis next year.
Really? So why have NHS England, the King’s Fund, the NHS Confederation and the Foundation Trust Network all welcomed the Autumn Statement as a big step forward? The truth is that the NHS has been holding up very well under the pressure of an ageing population. Having predicted a winter crisis last year that failed to materialise, Labour’s policy is now to gamble on one happening this year. No-one can predict what operational pressures might occur with a heavy winter, but our political opponents might remember that the public judge you not by events you can’t control but by the ones you can – and they won’t forget the poor care Labour swept under the carpet year in, year out.
4. They say that our NHS reforms “dragged the NHS down”, while proposing a massive top-down reorganisation of their own.
Our reforms have saved £5.5 billion this Parliament, and allow us to employ 13,000 more clinical staff by stripping out 21,000 administrators. Yet even as they criticise our reforms, Labour plan a massive reorganisation all of their own, forcing GPs to work for hospitals and making Clinical Commissioning Groups report to local government. As Maureen Baker of the Royal College of GPs has said: “The College has grave concerns about Andy Burnham’s proposals to create hospital-led integrated care organisations. His plans could destroy everything that is great and that our patients value about general practice and could lead to the demise of family doctoring as we know it.”
5. They accuse Conservatives of ‘running down the NHS’ – then turn it into a political football.
Members of the public will feel widespread revulsion at Ed Miliband’s comment that he wants to “weaponise” the NHS. Sadly, that private comment revealed what many have long suspected – that Labour politicians are more concerned with using the NHS to get votes than ensuring it works for patients. We will always put patients first, even if Labour won’t.