The principle of sharing the burden of illness as a community is absolutely central to the idea of One Nation. The NHS was founded in a period of immense uncertainty and fiscal restraint. It came about despite hostility and opposition because of the strength of its founding principles, and those principles are just as resilient today. But will we inherit an NHS recognisable as the service we left in 2010? What will our health service look like under a One Nation Labour Government?
It is our job to look at the bigger picture, and to re-link health determinants to our wider policies. We need to understand that every government policy has an impact on health. Bevan understood this as Minister of Labour and National Service. Unemployment has a critical impact on health, but it is often easier to assume that the two are distinct and divisible. But health is linked to almost every other policy area across government.
All of the improvements we can make across the government in 2015 cut right to the heart of One Nation Labour, and we must reduce the divisions between these policy areas. We cannot expect everybody to be able to navigate the myriad of organisations that make up our healthcare system. We must be responsive to these concerns, and Whole Person Care is one way of doing it.
It is only through a One Nation approach that we will be able to tackle the great health problems of our time. Our promise to redistribute funds from competition lawyers to the front line – with a forty-eight hour deadline for GPs to see each patient – is a case in point. A One Nation Labour Government will use its position to redistribute power from the lawyer to the patient. Evidence suggests that delays to getting appointments prove a strong disincentive to attempting to head to the GP surgery in the first place. Hopefully, with more people seeing their usual doctor in a timely manner, problems will be identified before they become prohibitively advanced. This could have a transformative impact on the large differentials in early diagnosis rates across the country. Everybody should have the right to quality and timely care – regardless of where they live.
Labour will ensure that patients are involved with any decisions on the future of their local hospital right from the outset. We will make sure that they have a formal role in drawing up and deciding on proposals for changes to maternity, wards, A&E units or any other health service before they get to the consultation stage.
Since coming to power, the Tory-led Government has ignored patients and made unilateral decisions on local health services far away in Westminster. Ordinary people are locked out of meaningful discussions on the future of local hospitals, with the real decisions made beforehand. Those that rely on my local hospitals like Tameside General and Stepping Hill should be amongst those that make the decisions on their future.
A One Nation Labour government would trust local people to take decisions regarding the future of their health services, and it would not take politically motivated action designed to redistribute funding where it suits us. It will ensure that patients are involved right at the outset.
To this end, a One Nation Labour Government will stop and, if necessary, reverse the ability of the Secretary of State to have the power to change services across whole regions without proper consultation. Jeremy Hunt’s contempt for ordinary patients and residents is symptomatic of a wider distrust of public consultation. This is why we propose that no change could be proposed by a Clinical Commissioning Group without patient representatives being involved. And when a change is proposed, an independent body should be charged with consulting the local community. In the system we have now, the body that draws up a change is tasked with consulting the community. This is nonsensical and clearly a conflict of interest.
Nye Bevan believed in acquiring power for the long-term purpose of giving it away. He believed in giving every group in the land a voice at the top table not to engender conflict, but to ensure decisions were made with all in mind, not just the richest – distinctly One Nation principles. We all recognise that power has, for too long, been concentrated at the top – and the top of Britain’s social strata is not some numinous and all-knowing entity. It is quite the opposite.
One Nation Labour will tackle unaccountable power. It will regulate market forces and make them work for patients, not lawyers and managers. It will guard the NHS from outrageous attacks on its core precepts. It will ensure all policy areas feed in to improving health and reducing health inequalities. It will tackle the growing public health problems facing Britain. And it will ensure patients are consulted before decisions are taken about them and their services.
In one of the world’s most advanced economies, the least we can do is to provide world-class care to all – and only we are forming a solid agenda for guiding the NHS through the 21st Century.