The crisis in the NHS is of the government’s own making, says Margaret Greenwood MP

Waiting lists for routine treatment on the NHS in England recently hit a record high of 7.75 million, with more than 9,000 people waiting for over 18 months.

There are over 125,000 staff vacancies, while many of those who work in the service are experiencing burnout, with not enough colleagues to work alongside them.

The Royal College of GPs’ Fit for the Future report from last autumn found that 42% of GPs in England are either likely or very likely to leave the profession over the next five years.

Recently, the Care Quality Commission rated almost two thirds of maternity services in England as either “inadequate” or “requires improvement” for the safety of care, and it said that “the overarching picture is one of a service and staff under huge pressure.”

Cancer waiting time targets continue to be missed in England, and recent months have seen some of the worst performances on record.

This is a crisis of the government’s own making, and the problems that we are seeing have not come about by accident.

The Conservatives have been running down the NHS for years.

They have also introduced policies designed to give the private sector a greater role within the service and to extend opportunities for big business.

Take two major pieces of legislation, for example.

One of the key provisions of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 enabled NHS Foundation Trusts to earn 49% of their income from treating private patients. How could that ever be a reasonable proposition?

Then, the Health and Care Act 2022 allowed representatives of private companies to sit on Integrated Care Partnerships and so play a part in preparing the integrated care strategy for an area, influencing where huge sums of public money will be spent.

The highly respected Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health Sir Michael Marmot said recently, when asked if we are stumbling or sleepwalking towards a privatised healthcare system: “I have no special insight into what motivates ministers, but they’re not behaving as if they want to preserve our NHS.”

Despite waiting lists being at a record high, Integrated Care Boards, the new local commissioning bodies, are on average being asked to make efficiency savings of around 6% this year. Surely the government can see that the needs of patients cannot be met if they continue to put the service under such great financial pressure?

The government is simply not giving the NHS the necessary funds to meet the needs of patients, nor has it ensured that the service has the necessary workforce.

A report titled The Rational Policymaker’s Guide to the NHS, which was published in July of this year by The 99% Organisation, sets out statistics on the average annual change in per capita health spending – adjusted for population and demographic factors – by UK governments since 1979.

It shows how, between 1997 and 2010, under Labour, there was an average annual increase in per capita health spending of 5.67%.

Conservative-led governments since 1979 have never come close to reaching that level.

Between 2015 and 2021, the Conservatives actually oversaw an average annual reduction in per capita health spending of 0.03%.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that public satisfaction in the NHS was at its highest in 2010, the year Labour left office, and that, in 2022, after 12 years of the Conservatives being in power, it plummeted to its lowest.

The Rational Policy-Maker’s Guide to the NHS makes it clear that, in the UK, our spending has not kept pace with the combination of inflation, population growth and population aging.

If we continue to under-spend, then performance will continue to be poor.

The report puts forward the view that “the rational strategy is to recommit to the fundamental model of the NHS, fund it properly and introduce operational improvements over time.”

This is an extremely sensible approach, because it is not the fundamental model of the NHS that is broken. It is the fact that it has been under-resourced by Conservative governments that has led us to where we are now.

The future of the NHS is seriously under threat.

We need a Labour government that will train the thousands of extra staff that the NHS needs, improve GP access and reform social care.

The next government must also significantly increase health spending each year.

History tells us that this works.

Failure to do so would be detrimental not only to patients, but to the economy.

We must fight to ensure that our NHS remains a comprehensive, universal, publicly owned and publicly run service that is there for us all when we need it.

Margaret Greenwood MP

Margaret Greenwood (born 14 March 1959) is a British politician who has served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Wirral West since 2015. She is a member of the Labour Party.