Here in Tameside, people are rightly worried about the NHS. After 13 years of neglect, waiting lists are at record highs, patient satisfaction is at record lows, and for many working in the health service, it feels as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
I believe in the NHS to my bones. The current crisis is not the default position of our health service, it is the consequence of Government mismanagement. Back in 2010, when the last Labour Government left office, waiting lists were at historic lows and our health service was recognised as one of the best in the world.
Building an NHS fit for the future will be the priority of the next Labour Government. A key component will be addressing problems with the so-called ‘front door’ to the NHS – things like GP practises, community health services and pharmacists – so that we shift the focus out of hospitals and into the community.
When I talk to local people, many are really frustrated that the idea of a ‘family doctor’ has fallen by the wayside over the last few years. The NHS is a health service that should, as the name makes clear, serve the public. I think it’s important that we give local patients the option to be seen by the same GP, but also a choice over whether their appointment will be in-person, over the phone or via video.
Earlier this week, Labour pledged to tackle this problem head-on, by committing to incentivise GP services that prioritise patient choice and allow people to be seen by a doctor of their choosing. This work will come alongside Labour’s plans to reverse the declining number of GPs by doubling medical schools to train thousands more a year. This is vital, especially considering that there are almost 5,000 fewer fully qualified GPs today than a decade ago.
We’ll also guarantee mental health support in every school and community, allowing patients to book specialist appointments without a GP’s referral and thereby freeing up GPs to offer the treatment only they can provide.
I have no doubt that, if implemented, these plans would completely transform the experiences of local people here in Tameside and give them a health service that works for them. We can, must, and will build an NHS fit for the future.