The NHS was founded more than 70 years ago by a Labour Government committed to delivering transformative policies and building a society which worked for all. It is Labour’s proudest achievement and means that all of us live day to day with the peace of mind that if we or a loved one falls ill we will receive the care and treatment we need free at the point of delivery. The past year has shown the importance of the NHS to our society, and the value of our keyworkers.
Yet a decade of austerity under the Tories and Lib-Dems has left the NHS increasingly struggling to provide the essential services we all rely upon. Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck A&E waiting times were at their worst level since records began; there were ever growing shortage of doctors, nurses and other health professionals; increasing waiting lists for essential, life-saving treatments; a social care crisis forcing older people to sell their homes to fund basic care; and hospital buildings and equipment which are outdated and crumbling. This left our health and social care sector without the resilience it needed and unprepared for the pandemic. Staff deserve far better and as we emerge from the pandemic, I will continue to fight for the funding and resources our NHS needs.
Throughout the pandemic, the NHS and social care sectors have been on the frontline. I am in awe of their hard work caring for patients and saving lives in the impossibly challenging circumstances. However, they have been consistently let down by central Government. It is wholly unacceptable that staff were left without the PPE or resources they need. Throughout the pandemic, I have met regularly with staff at King’s College Hospital and have been raising their concerns to the Government.
As co-Chair of the APPG for Adult Social Care, I also meet regularly with representatives of the social care sector. Tragically care homes saw a staggering number of deaths during the first wave, following a reckless decision to discharge Covid patients to homes. Care Homes also experienced difficulty accessing funding and essential supplies. I am continuing to work closely with the APPG to call for the support the social care sector needs.
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Hospitals across the country are having to pay more to provide essential services without any significant increase in funding from central government. A decade of cuts and the biggest financial squeeze in its history has pushed the NHS to the brink and it is patients and staff who are paying the price. Our local healthcare providers need a proper long term funding settlement to help them plan for the future, and to give them the resilience to respond to emergencies like the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is shameful that Rishi Sunak’s recent budget included a real terms cut in funding for the NHS when compared to before the pandemic. Hospitals and GPs will continue to see increased demand for many years. This will include treating longer term health complications caused by Covid-19, and working through a backlog of patients after a year of disruption. The Government must also recognise the hard work and skills of health and social care staff. Staff have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic facing unimaginable conditions. Tragically, many have lost their lives or fallen seriously unwell whilst caring for others. The Government must recognise this sacrifice and give them a proper real-terms pay rise.
In 2010 before the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government King’s College Hospital (KCH) had a balanced budget and made a small surplus each year. KCH has faced significant funding pressures since the Government’s 2010 decision to limit NHS annual budget rises to 1% a year causing the hospital to record an annual deficit in excess of £180m last year. This has left the trust in financial special measures, with a debt of more than £500 million, the highest deficit and debt of any hospital in the UK ever.
I have repeatedly called for a long-term investment plan for the NHS and social care sector, funded by increasing taxation on the very wealthiest in society. I regular meet with the CEO of KCH to discuss the impact of Government policy on the hospital and I raise the plight of our local hospital in Parliament. I have joined many protests locally to campaign for a better financial settlement for our NHS and for King’s and the Maudsley locally.
I am pleased that the Government finally listened and wrote off King’s College Hospital’s debt at the start of the pandemic. However, I will continue to campaign for the long-term sustainable funding King’s needs to plan for its future.
I also worked to support facilities management staff at King’s challenging a threat to privatise their services. When I met with staff and representatives from Unite and Unison, they raised serious concerns about the impact on their wages, contractual terms and management arrangements, but most importantly no longer being a part of the NHS family. I wrote to the CEO and Chair of the Board on several occasions to oppose this proposal. I was delighted when King’s decided to drop this plan and facilities management staff remained NHS employees.
After years of underfunding, mental health services are in urgent need of investment. The Government has repeatedly promised to give mental health the same priority as physical health, yet there are 4,500 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010 and a review of the MHS Five Year Forward View has found that money intended for mental health services has been used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS. More must be done to achieve true parity of esteem between mental and physical health
If the Government is to be taken seriously on how it supports people who suffer from mental health problems, I believe it must increase spending on these services, ring-fence budgets and ensure children and young people have access to a counselling service in every secondary school. I have led a debate in Parliament on young people’s mental health and raise mental health regularly in the House of Commons. The Labour Party has committed to all of these necessary reforms and I will continue to campaign for their urgent implementation.
An estimated 1.4 million people in the UK have unmet social care needs. This leaves vulnerable elderly people and people with long-term conditions without the support they need live comfortably and denies them their dignity. Too often this unmet need will lead to increased conditions unnecessarily forcing people out of their homes and communities and into hospitals and residential settings.
At a time when the social care system is close to collapse, the Government is continuing to avoid any meaningful action. The funding raised by the Health and Care levy will not reach the sector for at least three years, and the Government’s proposals for wider reform have a ten year time scale. The sector is already close to breaking point with at least 100,000 vacancies across the country. I am continuing to call on the Government to act to ensure the sector can survive through the pandemic and ensure everyone can access high quality care in their community.
I am a co-Chair of the APPG for Adult Social Care and work closely with social care providers. During the pandemic, our work has been focused on the immediate issues carers have faced. We are now beginning detailed work on the lessons which the Government must learn from the pandemic, and the wider reforms to ensure the long-term future of social care.
I have been working with residents of Dulwich and West Norwood to campaign for better community provision for autistic people and people with learning difficulties. Scandals such as at Whorlton Hall Hospital and Winterbourne View have demonstrated the total inappropriateness of long-term secure hospitals for people with learning disabilities and autistic people. I have met with families who have first-hand experience of loved ones being forced into secure hospitals, often in the private sector, where they are subsequently abused and neglected. I recently worked with autistic people and their families to organise a large lobby of MPs in Parliament to campaign for a commitment to delivering #HomesNotHospitals.
For the majority of autistic people and people with learning disabilities, hospitals are an entirely inappropriate environment, and they should be supported to live in community settings, with specialist care and support. The Government’s Transforming Care programme, introduced in the wake of the Winterbourne View scandal, aimed to achieve exactly that, but it is failed and eight years later an estimated 2,245 people are still living in in-patient units. I have been calling on the Government to invest in fully regulated, high quality community provision to replace in-patient settings for autistic people and people with learning disabilities and publish a detailed plan for the completion of Transforming Care.