Chris Skidmore MP is the MP for Kingswood
Yesterday Labour called a debate on the NHS, with Andy Burnham promising on twitter that “The PM's bad week just got worse. Labour has secured a debate tomorrow to expose Cameron's Great NHS Betrayal.”
This was regrettable, since during most of the debate fewer than 10 Labour MPs were in attendance in the chamber. Not only this, but all Burnham succeeded in exposing during the debate was to re-affirm his and Labour’s position on NHS funding, which he outlined in the Guardian last June, stating “It is irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms within the overall financial envelope…”
In contrast, the Government is committed to real-terms increases in the NHS budget over the course of the parliament of 0.4%, which will ensure that NHS funding will increase by £12.5 billion by 2015. Repeatedly during the debate Burnham committed himself to opposing these real-terms increases, claiming “that it was cynical and irresponsible” for the Government “to make those promises, and I repeat that today.”
Yet remarkably Burnham was also quick to oppose an underspend in central departmental spending, realised through reducing waste and costs. As I argued during the debate:
What is wrong with that? Does the shadow Secretary of State disagree that we might have cut down on costs such as the £115,759 he spent on a personal chauffeur during his time as Secretary of State? Does he oppose an underspend, given that during his time at the Department it spent £3.65 million on almost 26,000 first-class rail tickets? We have slashed that cost by more than 70%. Does he deny that he and the Department spent £1.7 million on luxury hotels during his time there? What is wrong with cutting such spending? What is wrong with the fact that Ministers are no longer using hotels such as the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva as they did in 2008 when the bill was £548.87 a night? If we are making those cuts to the central budget, I quite welcome our doing so.
In response, Labour backbenchers responded that these expenses were ‘minutiae’. It is hardly surprising that with an attitude like this, we cannot trust Labour to run the NHS.
Let us not forget that it was the Labour party that gave us an NHS IT system at a cost of £12.7 billion—450% more than its original cost. It was the Labour party that gave us private finance initiative deals that were so badly drafted that they were worth £11.4 billion but cost £65 billion to pay off. The number of managers more than doubled under Labour, from 23,400 to 42,500- and under Burnham’s watch, in the year before the General Election, management costs continued to escalate by 23% to over £350m.
In contrast, since the election the government has reduced the number of managers by more than 5,000, while at the same time increasing the number of doctors in the NHS by more than 1,500. Thanks to tackling administration and management costs, according to the Audit Commission, in the last year—2010-11—we saved £4.3 billion- to be reinvested in frontline care.
The government has already achieved much that we should welcome, achievements that Burnham remained curiously silent on. Almost 150,000 patients a year were being placed in mixed-sex accommodation in breach of the rules while he was Health Secretary. Conservatives committed to ending this practice, and since the election there has now been 91% reduction in the number of patients put into mixed-sex accommodation.
At the end of the last government, the average in-patient wait was 8.4 weeks. According to the latest available figures, that has fallen to 8.1 weeks. The average waiting time for out-patients was 4.3 weeks at the time of the last election; it is now 4.1 weeks. Over the last year, the number of MRSA bloodstream infections in hospitals has fallen by a third. The number of clostridium difficile infections has dropped by 16%. Nearly three quarters of a million more people have access to NHS dentistry. Nearly 2 million people have access to the new 111 urgent care service, and the whole country will be covered within the next 18 months. The Cancer Drugs Fund has given more than 5,000 patients access to drugs that they desperately need, which under the last Government’s regime would not have been available to them.
These achievements should be celebrated, but they can only be the start. There is still so much more that needs to be done if the NHS is to face its biggest challenge of an ageing population which bring increased demands on its services. But thanks to Andy Burnham, we now know where Labour stand on investing in the future of the NHS- let us not allow them to forget it.