The NHS is always going to be very high on the agenda in any future election given its extremely uncertain future. As many of you may know Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, had to face GP Dr Louise Irvine who contested his seat on behalf of the NHA party. He was clearly rattled and while he won comfortably, he used his acceptance speech to accuse Dr Irvine of lying.
Her detailed response contains a withering and factual rebuttal, point by point. It paints a powerful if dismal picture of the parlous state of the NHS and every one of us needs to read this and understand just what is at stake. As an aside, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat manifestos all move in the same direction, promising significant additional funding for the NHS. The Conservative manifesto claims to give additional funding – but this is on the basis of selling NHS assets i.e. selling the family silver to cover budget shortfalls.
Dear Mr Hunt
On Thursday night, in your acceptance speech, you accused me of “falsehoods”.
In your words, you accuse me of lying about “both our record with the NHS and also our motives”. You were clearly rattled that over 12,000 people in South West Surrey showed their concern for the NHS and voted for someone who questioned your record, but that is what democracy is all about – holding the government to account.
The truth is that I haven’t lied for the simple reason that I haven’t needed to. The facts speak for themselves.
When I talked about your record, I drew out many facts:
- The number of people lying on trolleys waiting more than 4 hours to be admitted to a hospital bed increased from 387,737 in 2015/16 to 560,108 in 2016/17 – that’s a 45% increase in one year. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that a trolley is one of the least safe places to be in the health care system or of the three patients who died in Worcestershire hospital on trolleys during last winter’s crisis?[i] The British Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis.”
- Ambulance response times, especially for the most urgent calls, are the worst since records began. The national target of reaching 75% of Category A calls within eight minutes has not been met for 32 consecutive months. [ii]
- Mental health services are struggling. Suicide is the commonest cause of death in boys age 5-16 yet children’s mental health services can’t cope with the volume of referrals and often there is not a single mental health bed anywhere in the country due to cuts to mental health provision. [iii]
- Performance against the 6-week cancer treatment target and the 18-week elective treatment target are deteriorating. [iv]
- Infant mortality is rising for the first time in years, having been rising for poorer children for a decade. [v]
- The Royal Society of Medicine attributed the 30,000 excess deaths in the winter of 2015 to cuts to health and social care. [vi]
- The NHS has fallen further down international league tables of mortality due to treatable causes. [vii]
None of these is a lie.
I also talked about the increasing privatisation for the NHS and your quote that “I am not privatising the NHS”. Was it a lie when I pointed out that the percentage of Dept of Health budget spent on for-profit providers rose by 25% in two years? [viii]
Perhaps it was my comments about funding that you felt were untrue. I said that the NHS had been underfunded and that future plans in the manifesto were insufficient. In fact, it was your government that was rebuked by the health select committee (including two Conservative MPs) for claiming that you’d be spending an extra £10 billion a year on NHS by 2020.[ix] They pointed out that a large proportion of this was taken from public health and doctor and nurse training budgets. Moving money around within a service to appear more generous than you actually are is fundamentally dishonest. [x]
In fact, your claim that you will be spending an extra £10bn per annum by 2020 compared with 2015 turns out to be only a £4.5 bn increase. This amounts to a 1.1% annual rise each year in the decade from 2010 -2020[xi], the biggest funding squeeze in NHS history and not even half of the 2.7% per annum forecast growth in need over that period, according to the NHS chief executive.[xii] As for the future, Prof Anita Charlesworth of the Health Foundation says that the promised extra funding for the NHS in the Conservative manifesto is far less than the NHS needs.[xiii]
Maybe you are accusing me of lying when I draw attention to NHS staff shortages and the disgraceful way you treat NHS staff:
- In 2015, Health Education England calculated that the NHS had 30,000 fewer full-time equivalent nurses than needed – equivalent to nearly one in 10 positions.[xiv]
- You have imposed a draconian pay cap on nurses meaning their pay will have been cut by 12% by 2020[xv]
- You have removed the bursary for student nurses, meaning many people who want to train to become a nurse can’t afford to do so[xvi]
- You have treated nurses and junior doctors with contempt. Record numbers are taking time off with stress because they fear that patients aren’t receiving the care they need[xvii] and 50% of nurses are considering leaving the profession because of this[xviii]
- In the recent NHS staff survey, 47% said current staffing levels were insufficient to allow them to do their job properly and 59% reported working unpaid overtime each week.[xix]
- Since your announcement in 2015 of 5,000 more GPs by 2020 we actually have fewer GPs now than two years ago! [xx]
In the election campaign I stated that your performance as Health Secretary is destroying the NHS, demoralising staff and risking patient safety. As you can see from the above, this is absolutely true.
Finally, you accused me of lying about your motives. I have no idea what your motives are for destroying our NHS, but I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt.
I have assumed that you are doing it deliberately – in order to run it down and provide an excuse for privatisation.
If I were you I’d accept that interpretation, because the alternative is that this has all been caused by your sheer incompetence.
Patients and NHS staff deserve better than this. The NHS is a great organisation and provides excellent care to most people most of the time, thanks to its dedicated and hardworking staff. But it is cracking at the seams and sometimes failing, due to the many pressures it is under. I am motivated by the desire to defend the NHS and raise the alarm about the dangers it faces from a continuation of Conservative policies. And as long as you are health secretary I will continue to hold you to account for what you are doing to the NHS.
Dr Louise Irvine