The NHS is a remarkable achievement. Founded in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan, it has weathered political storms, domestic emergencies, and most recently a global pandemic. Last year, we all stepped outside of our homes and clapped, cheered, and banged pots and pans together to show our gratitude to a health service that has become a cornerstone of modern Britain.
This week, MPs will vote for the last time on the proposed Health and Care Bill before it heads to the Lords for further scrutiny. With social care in crisis, waiting lists spiralling out of controls, and ambulance response times at a historic high, the NHS is facing one of the biggest challenges in its lifetime. 11 years of chronic underfunding by successive Conservative governments has left the NHS on life support, and the pandemic has further exacerbated these problems. No one disputes that the NHS needs support and attention, but the Health and Care Bill is extremely concerning for several reasons.
It does very little to tackle the cynical involvement of private interests in public healthcare and makes it easier for the Government to hand out lucrative public contracts to mates without a proper tendering process. It hands excessive powers to the Secretary of State and risks political interference in the operational independence of the NHS. I’m also really worried about the reorganisation of local authorities, and the impact this will have on the innovative integrated care system we have in Tameside.
Frustratingly, the Government has also watered down its already inadequate plans for social care reform. Originally, the Government proposed that social care costs would be capped at £86,000 – including care costs paid by individuals and contributions from councils. It’s now backtracked on that, and is planning on removing state-funded costs from the cap. This will leave an estimated 60% of elderly care users worse off. This means that the wealthier will benefit from the cap, but those in an ordinary house in Denton, Dukinfield or Audenshaw will face a huge and unfair financial hit. So much for fixing the social care crisis.
Concerns about these plans aren’t dependant on party allegiances. Conservative backbenchers are also extremely concerned by the Government’s chaotic and damaging health and social care plans. They, like us, were promised a proper social care plan, only to see it fall away like so many other flashy government promises.
The Government should focus on slashing waiting times, improving NHS recruitment, and undoing some of the disastrous policies of the last decade. We also need to see a proper social care plan that is fair, compassionate and meets the huge scale of the crisis.
We are right to be proud of our NHS. But with that pride, we must ensure that we protect and equip it for the future.