LABOUR’S revelation that almost half the maternity units in England closed temporarily at some point last year confirms that the Tory government is neglecting our National Health Service.
After the party’s weekend warning that government failure to fund the NHS adequately makes it more difficult for patients to access their GP, a crisis is clearly at hand.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt constantly spins the refrain that there are no health spending cuts, but failure to increase NHS allocations by at least the rate of inflation equates to a real-terms reduction.
He throws compliments to NHS staff like confetti while defending and implementing the government’s stealth cuts.
What is the point of gushing praise to “our world-class doctors, nurses, paramedics and everyone else who works every day, across the country, to make the NHS the best it can be,” as he did in June, if that isn’t accompanied by adequate finance?
Health staff at all levels have suffered a lower standard of living since the Tories, assisted by their Liberal Democrat allies, imposed a below-inflation pay cap to help finance the private banking sector’s bailout.
Curiously, Hunt didn’t cite the banks in his June message, referring to “the financial crash and ensuing period of constrained budgets,” as though the economic collapse happened without cause.
While NHS staff have to tighten their belts, the same predicament affects the service as a whole.
We are all assured of prompt, safe and professional care in the event of an emergency, but the public wants and needs to know that day-to-day services such as GP consultations and maternity care are not degraded.
The Ministry of Health claims that its plans include funding for another 5,000 GPs by 2020 and that 17 million people are already able to make a routine appointment with a GP at evenings and weekends.
These are fantasy figures designed to cover up inadequate funding for a sector that witnessed 92 GP practices close in 2016, with reduced GP numbers and longer delays for patients wishing to see their doctor.
Herculean efforts by GP practices to meet patient needs are matched by those of midwives to provide for the needs of pregnant women, but staff shortages born of inadequate funding stand in their way.
No-one, least of all the midwives’ RCM trade union, would want to see maternity units stay open if it meant a risk to women’s health and wellbeing, but the shortfall of 3,500 midwives has to be tackled.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth’s pledge that an incoming Labour government will provide the necessary resources to our NHS makes the need for an early general election more critical.
While the Tories continue to impose their capitalist austerity agenda on our health services, they are also intent on asset-stripping NHS land and property as they did previously to other public services.
Theresa May has indicated her intention to implement the proposals contained in the so-called Naylor Review to put “inefficiently used land and property” up for sale.
Trusts would have a carrot-and-stick incentive to dispose of assets deemed inefficiently used, facing an annual 3.5 per cent budget cut penalty for failure and a similar-figure budget increase for flogging them off to the private sector.
While NHS staff jump through hoops to meet patient need despite inadequate funding, the Tories are fixated with whittling away the public sector. They have to go.