On Wednesday Theresa May made a statement which I wholeheartedly agree with, that the National Health Service is the best in the world – better than the French, better than the Germans and far better than the United States. This is based on several studies of the outcomes of health services in the world, and how they help people right across the board. It is great to have confirmation from experts that the National Health Service really is as good as we think it is.
Why is it so good? It’s not because we spend more than other countries – we spend significantly less per head than the French and Germans and far far less than the Americans. But more of the money we spend goes into treatment for the patients who need it the most. We don’t waste anywhere near as much on insurance and legal fees and administrative costs. And our health service doesn’t spend huge amounts on some people just because they have got more money than other patients.
That doesn’t mean that everything is rosy. There has been nothing short of a crisis with hospitals and ambulances in recent weeks. We cannot know if the woman who tragically died in Clacton last week would have survived if she hadn’t had to wait hours for an ambulance – but we can say that such a wait is completely unacceptable. In the last week of December, one in six ambulances had to wait over half an hour at hospitals because there was no space or staff to receive their patients. That means there are fewer ambulances available to attend emergency calls and save lives. And waiting times in our A&Es across the country have been way above the target. Last year 2 1/2 million people waited 4 hours or longer in A&E compared to just over 350 thousand in the last year of the Labour government 2009/10.
In October this paper reported that our mental health trust – the Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) – had been rated inadequate. I have visited the managers, and I know they have put measures in place to improve, but they still do not have sufficient resources to do everything they would like. And when I attended the launch of the Mental Health Directory in Parliament on Tuesday I was disappointed to learn that NSFT has done very little to work with charities to try to fill some of the gaps in the services we have.
Britain’s cancer outcomes are not as good as in some other countries, either. Across England, only just over half of people are diagnosed early – with more early diagnosis, more people can survive their cancer. The NHS is struggling to keep up with diagnostic tests. We need two thousand extra radiographers, six hundred extra radiologists, and around a thousand other cancer professionals to be trained by 2021. I have written to the East of England Cancer Alliance to ask how they will retain, attract and train enough staff, and whether they are getting the guidance they need from NHS England to create an effective action plan for our area.
Frail older people are still stuck in hospital because there is no suitable support available for them when they leave. Theresa May is not going to solve the Social Care crisis just by putting Jeremy Hunt in charge. The government needs to give more support to Councils, but Suffolk County Council itself needs to spend more of the money it has got on making sure that elderly people get the care that they need. That is not going to be provided while the Council continues to cut the amounts it pays to providers.
NHS staff are producing miracles under very difficult circumstances. The answer is not more re-organisation. We know the NHS is an excellent way of providing healthcare – Theresa May herself acknowledges that. We do not need more privatisation, whether through so called ‘Accountable Care Organisations’ or in any other way. What the NHS needs is more resources to do the job properly. Three separate independent health think tanks estimate that health spending needs to rise by approximately £30 billion to maintain current standards of care and meet rising demand. Labour is pledged to provide that £30 billion when we form the next government, and to give Social Care the £8 billion infusion it so desperately needs too. We want to have the best health service in the world. We don’t need it privatised – we can afford to pay for it.