NHS on life support?

As the NHS struggles to cope with yet another winter crisis, buckling under budgetary and capacity pressures, Larry Sanders, Green Party Health Spokesperson, looks at the crisis and outlines what makes the Green Party the party of the NHS

Larry Sanders
Tue 27 Feb 2018

It feels almost foolish to write about the pain and death being deliberately inflicted by this government. We know what is happening in our hospitals. We know that 90-year-old spouses are caring for even more frail partners at home. We know that cuts to benefits are throwing people into poverty, the main predictor of increased ill health. We may be aware that the decades-long average increase in life expectancy has stopped. Yet this information has not led to change.

It sometimes feels like a strange kind of sleepwalk. It is heartening to be able to point out that the policies of the Green Party are superior to those of the main parties, but I do not intend to denigrate them. It is likely that a majority of every party favours a high quality public health service available to all. We have no choice but to fight to restore and improve.

The NHS and social care in the UK are underfunded and the extent of that underfunding grows daily. If current rates of funding increase and growth in patient need continue, there will have to be cuts of ?22 billion per year by 2020, while there is already a shortfall of about ?5 billion for social care.

The bulk of Health and Social Care spending is on staff; the NHS is already short of 6,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses. The government's solution has been reorganisation, creating Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, to be followed by Accountable Care Organisations. They plan to reduce spending by keeping needy patients out of hospital. There is absolutely no evidence that the very frail people who will be kept out of hospital can be properly treated. I asked a local GP what he thought would happen if patients now referred to hospital could no longer be admitted. His response was that they would die.

There are human consequences to those numbers. Over 50,000 people waiting for operations face an indefinite
wait because our hospitals are so overcrowded. Many are in pain; some will die unnecessarily. Hospitals are already worse off than they were last year when the Red Cross was talking about a 'humanitarian crisis'. The BMA found that the shortage of doctors means that 71 per cent had substantial gaps in their rotas. Staff feel guilt and shame because they can't provide the care that gives meaning to their work. One result is that more nurses are leaving hospitals than are recruited.

In response, the Green Party has three basic policies for Health and Social Care:

  1. The NHS needs adequate funding. That means filling the current gap plus a four per cent increase per year (which has been the norm for almost 70 years). This is connected to a variety of increased taxes on the wealthiest.
  2. Privatisation has to be reversed. It is expensive and makes it impossible to run a coherent service. Corbyn and about 35 Labour MPS have signed up to the NHS Reinstatement Bill introduced by Caroline Lucas and now being presented by Margaret Greenwood, a Labour MP.
  3. Social care must be adequately funded, publicly provided and free at the point of use. There is no logical or moral reason why care in hospital should be NHS-provided, while at home you are harshly means-tested with care available only from profit-making companies.

We are at a turning point. We can have the effective and loving care most people want to receive and give. The NHS is about a vision of a good society as well as an efficient service. The yawning gap between rich and poor is growing wider, and a further erosion of healthcare provision and shortened life expectancy will only intensify anger. We can recreate a service of care as a foundation for a more decent and inclusive society. Only fools would stand by and watch our beloved NHS die.