I’ve been doing a lot of hospital visiting the last few months as my Mum has had a few health problems. I never cease to be amazed at the dedication of the staff who have supported my mum; the GPs who found the time to visit her at home; the ambulance staff who took her in to hospital; the porters, nurses and other healthcare staff who looked after her on the ward and the occupational therapists who helped her to return home. Thank goodness that we have healthcare that’s free at the point of delivery, when we need it.
The NHS was founded in 1948 by the Nye Bevan, the visionary Health Secretary in the post-war Labour Government. We are hugely proud of our creation, but it has taken a battering recently as it faces chronic underfunding, huge winter pressures and growing waiting lists which this Government has failed to tackle.
Here in the North East we have some excellent hospitals coping under very difficult conditions, though nationally the system is creaking. It’s a sad contradiction that we have such good hospitals and committed staff and yet we face real challenges in addressing the chronic health inequalities in many of our communities.
Yesterday, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth set out Labour’s plan for the NHS as it approaches its 70th birthday, referencing Nye Bevan’s vision that “the service must always be changing, growing and improving”.
Labour’s plan recognises that the very nature of ill-health is fundamentally changing and so our approach to the NHS must change too. For too long we’ve viewed the health service as a sickness service focused on relieving the suffering of infectious disease. Instead we need to focus our attention on supporting people to live with chronic conditions such as diabetes or arthritis that, for many, have become a permanent feature of life. And of course the long term aim must be to prevent people developing these conditions where we can.
A Labour Government would fund innovation to help improve services that support people to take more responsibility for living a healthy lifestyle and taking more control over their own health conditions.
Obesity is twice as common amongst children living in the most deprived areas, as compared to children in wealthy areas. Since 2010 the life expectancy of our population has started to widen again, after years of closing the gap between the poorest areas and the average in England.
Gateshead’s Director of Public Health, Alice Wiseman has recently published her Annual Report, which this year focuses on tackling inequalities in the health of local residents. She reported that, currently, healthy life expectancy in Gateshead is only 57 for men and 59 for women. Compared with the national average for England, that’s 6 years less of healthy life for men, 5 for women. Part of the solution is reversing the cuts to Public Health and the Labour Party is committed to doing just that.
At the last general election we pledged an additional £45 billion across a Parliament for health and social care, in recognition of the underfunding and staffing crisis facing the NHS and social care sector. Health cuts never heal and over the past seven years the tories have shown us that they can’t be trusted with our health service.In the meantime, I’ll be doing everything in my power to get a better deal on health for my constituents.
Later today the House of Commons will debate the abolition of car parking charges in hospitals – you may have read about this in yesterday’s paper – and I’ve had many constituents get in touch about this. It’s always struck me that finding a parking space and then finding the right money and a parking machine to pay for it can only add to the stress of people attending hospital appointments or visiting family and friends there, especially when some of the charges are hefty.
I’ll be supporting this bill but that won’t take away from the problems of finding a parking space: what we need is reliable public transport so that we don’t need to take the car in future.