Norman Lamb MP: Will damning headlines make the PM think again on a fundamental review of the health & social care system?
By Norman Lamb MP in Politics Home
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats
Former Care Minister Norman Lamb MP repeats calls for a cross-party review of the health and social care funding settlement, to ensure it is sustainable in the longer term following news this week that tens of thousands of patients will have their operations delayed.
A deluge of reports about the strain on our NHS and social care systems have become an unwelcome, and all-too-predictable, feature of the Christmas and new year period. This week, we heard that tens of thousands of patients will have their operations delayed, as over-stretched hospitals struggle to meet the growing demand for care.
And this isn't the only evidence of disarray in many NHS hospitals up and down the country.
East of England Ambulance Trust, which serves my own constituency, has resorted to sending taxis to take patients to hospital, while paramedics have been stuck in ambulance queues totalling hundreds of hours last week.
Hospitals have had to abandon the standard that male and female patients should be treated in separate wards.
24 Hospital Trusts across the country have issued 'Black Alerts', meaning that they are under such severe pressure that patient safety is at risk.
Yet the Prime Minister claims the NHS is better prepared "than ever before". I dread to think how much worse things have to get before she will admit that this is nothing short of a crisis.
The picture this all paints is a terrifying one. For patients left lying on trollies in hospital corridors - or who have been told they cannot come in for treatment at all - I cannot even imagine the distress it is causing.
This is made doubly infuriating because it was so entirely predictable. The concept of a winter crisis is not new. Cast your mind back to last January and almost a year ago to the day, we were seeing headlines virtually identical to ones this week. We had hospitals vastly exceeding recommended safe levels of capacity, patients being left on trolleys, waiting times being missed, hospitals issuing alerts calling for help to cope with demand, and operations being cancelled.
There is no magic wand to immediately fix the growing need for NHS services, under funding and staff shortages, but it is unacceptable that the Government have done so little to help services prepare to cope with equivalent pressures this year.
Just how long are they prepared to let our NHS lurch from crisis to crisis? The quality of patient care which we all have the right to expect is being chipped away. Staff are being pushed to breaking point - many even leaving the health service and the jobs they love, because of the inordinate pressure they are under.
We simply cannot get to this time next year and be in the same position, or worse, yet again. The Liberal Democrats have been calling for an emergency injection of additional funding to help the NHS and social care system cope, by putting a penny on income tax. This could raise a much needed £6bn extra. But we also want to see a fundamental review of the health and social care funding settlement to ensure it is sustainable in the longer term. I have been leading calls for such a process, one which should be carried out cross-party, and involve patients, staff and the public. MPs from my own Party and others have supported this call. We know the future of our NHS is simply too important to let it suffer because of Party political divides, and because those in power want to bury their heads in the sand.
The Government, however, have yet to agree. Instead they are letting the NHS struggle on while patients and their families; and doctors, nurses and other dedicated staff pay the price. I can only hope that this week's damning headlines, and worse that I fear is still to come this winter, will be enough to make the Prime Minister reconsider.
Rt Hon Norman Lamb is the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk. He is a former Minister of State at the Department of Health and is currently Chair of the Science and Technology Committee (Commons)