One of the biggest issues that I receive letters about in my postbag is our NHS. And it’s fair to say that the current costly and, in my opinion, totally unnecessary reorganisation of our health service by the government is causing a great deal of alarm and distress.
Set aside the loss of 6,000 nursing posts in the last two years, or indeed the next big issue of the future of our district general hospitals – and of course Tameside General Hospital is not immune from the current Greater Manchester-wide review of hospitals – one current issue of real concern here in Tameside are the proposals to ‘outsource’ Greater Manchester’s Patient Transport Ambulance Service to Arriva, the bus and train company.
Currently this service is provided by the North West Ambulance Service and it is funded by the outgoing primary care trusts across the county. It is much more than a ‘super-taxi service’ as they will often transport around those people who have specIfic and specialist health or mobility needs, and who cannot therefore use their own or public transport to get to their appointments, but similarly do not warrant an emergency blue light ambulance response.
As a Shadow Health Minister, I recently spoke at a campaign event to halt this privatisation by stealth of a key NHS service; not least because I feel it is clearly the wrong decision for my own Tameside constituents who may rely on that valuable service. Many people don’t even know about these impending changes, but I am concerned that Arriva’s operation could entail cuts in the quality of service, not least because their bid’s net worth is around 75% of that put forward by the North West Ambulance Service.
For me, it raises a number of troubling questions about the future privatisation in the NHS. I hope it won’t be the case that the privatisation of our non-emergency ambulances will result in a 25% drop in quality of service. We’ll see! But with the new law allowing ‘Any Qualified Provider’ I really do fear we will see even more private providers start to win and take over key contracts in the NHS, with the lowest priced option.
That is why I was proud to host a Labour Party sponsored ‘NHS Pledge’ event in central Manchester last week. We are calling on all Labour Councils – using their new roles in public health and as key partners with the NHS – to protect our local health services from the worst excesses of the changes being introduced by this Tory-led government. We are asking local health leaders to sign up to our five principles which are to protect the NHS founding values; to prevent postcode lotteries; to guard against longer waiting times; to help promote collaboration over competition; and to put patients before profits.
The event was attended by most councils across the region and I was really pleased that both Tameside (represented by Councillor Lynn Travis) and High Peak (represented by their Council Leader, Councillor Caitlin Bisknell) both proudly signed these two Councils up to Labour’s NHS Pledge.
I know from Lynn and Caitlin, and from my own post bag, that people here in Tameside, and across the border in Glossop, are particularly angry about what’s happening to our NHS and believe that David Cameron has betrayed them. Before the election he promised no more top-down NHS re-organisations but brought forward the biggest ever, taking £3.45bn away from the frontline and running unforgivable risks with patient safety. The NHS Pledge will show where Labour Councils, such as ours in Tameside and High Peak are making a difference.
This article was written for the ‘Westminster Weekly’ column in the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle.