It’s been a tough year for the NHS. More than 1,000 health workers have died through Covid-19 and the waiting lists are now longer than ever. Despite it all, the dedication of staff and their success in the vaccine roll-out has been magnificent.
Boris Johnson promises more nurses, doctors and new hospitals, but with 4.7 million people on NHS waiting lists, the highest on record, and nearly 400,000 already waiting more than a year, can we trust him?
In Birmingham, existing health inequalities mean life expectancy for a woman living in Sutton Coldfield is seven years greater than her ‘sister’ in Billesely. We can’t allow this to continue.
Waiting lists add to inequalities and increase demands for private health insurance for those with the money to pay.
In the USA, health care is excellent if you have good insurance, but can be virtually non-existent for some groups.
I’m afraid the current scandal over GP privatisations and uneasy questions about Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s shareholdings, against this background of health inequalities, does give cause for concern.
If the Government wants to allay our fears, it must commit to immediately tackling waiting lists just as Labour did when they came to power in 1997.
But, given the appalling way Goodrest Croft GP surgery, in my constituency, was closed, we must be clear experts can’t mean bureaucrats deciding without consulting.
We must also learn lessons from this past year. Major decisions about modernisation, drugs and new treatments need to be taken by experts. In that respect, the roll out strategy of the Joint Vaccine Committee was probably right despite compelling calls to prioritise key workers.
We also need a proper process for pay especially after the disgraceful recommendation to reward nurses with a pay cut. The priority should be to secure staffing levels and stability in the workforce to prepare for the challenges ahead.
This is not a time to play fast and loose with our health service or for there to be doubts about the probity of decision making.
The NHS is this country’s finest asset. We need to keep it that way.