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Thursday, 24 May 2018

NHS deterioration forcing patients to seek private care, says Labour

Written by Richard Wheeler and Elizabeth Arnold

NHS patients are "reluctant refugees" forced to seek private care due to the deterioration of the service, Labour has claimed.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth accused the Conservatives of pushing the health service into a "level of crisis" which has forced people to seek treatment elsewhere.

MPs heard that advertisements in London Underground stations are encouraging people to pay £80 to see a private GP due to appointment delays.

Mr Ashworth's criticism came as the Opposition sought to force the release of Government papers, from June 8 2017 onwards, linked to reforming the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

Reports have suggested Theresa May is considering scrapping controversial elements of the changes introduced by the coalition.

The legislation, which encountered strong opposition to its introduction, gave GPs and other clinicians more responsibility for spending the health budget in England while also encouraging greater competition with the private sector.

Labour's motion was the latest proposed use of an arcane parliamentary procedure to make the vote binding on the Government by issuing a "humble address" to the Queen asking her to require ministers to comply.

It was defeated by 295 votes to 230, majority 65.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Ashworth warned of an all-year "crisis" in the NHS and pointed to staff, bed, equipment and funding shortages.

Intervening, Labour's Wes Streeting (Ilford North) said: "A&E waiting times wouldn't be as long if the Government was investing properly in primary care.

"Yet in my borough we've got this ludicrous position where private companies are advertising in London Underground stations saying 'Fed up waiting? Our private GPs can see you now - only £80'.

"Does he agree with me that people should not be forced to pay £80 to see a GP, people should not be waiting unnecessarily long in A&E because of the Government's failure to properly fund and deliver the workforce primary care needs?"

Mr Ashworth replied: "You have hit the nail on the head.

"Because the problem is when you allow your National Health Service to deteriorate by this scale and push it into this level of crisis, you're essentially forcing people - often reluctant refugees - from a public NHS into self-pay options.

"That is what happened last time they were in Government, it's happening again."

Mr Ashworth said the current fragmented structures of the NHS were wasting energy, time and resources, adding the Health and Social Care Act had created a "fragmented mess".

He said: "Outsourcing and privatisation is increasingly a false economy where supposed savings are easily outweighed by the costs, but more importantly than that, privatisation first and foremost has a detrimental impact on patient care."

Labour, he said, favoured integration and accountability and that funding should be allocated by means other than an internal market.

Mr Ashworth also said: "Privatisation quite simply has failed."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in his reply, said: "Listening to his denunciation of privatisation and outsourcing I think my children would have said that Alice in Wonderland has nothing on the Labour Party when it comes to taking totally contradictory positions on an identical issue."

Labour, he argued, "left £80 billion of PFI contracts for the NHS to pick up the pieces on, costing the NHS £2 billion every year that cannot be used for good patient care".

Mr Hunt said: "I'm afraid the motion this afternoon is a transparent attempt to set hares running about NHS privatisation that is not happening.

"The truth is that we know it's not happening, they know it's not happening, and with all the pressures facing the NHS today to scare staff and the public with fake news is breathtakingly irresponsible."

The Health Secretary appeared to sidestep a question on the Health and Social Care Act, when he was asked directly by Labour's Karin Smyth (Bristol South) if he was proud of the Act and if it had worked out as intended.

"As Chinese premier Zhou Enlai said about the French revolution, it's too early to say," said Mr Hunt.

He went on to urge colleagues to resist Labour's motion, saying: "Good policy can only be made through frank and open discussion between ministers and their officials.

"It won't surprise this House to know that ministers are human. We make multiple mistakes, and it is critical... for the Secretary of State in charge of the largest health system in the world to get honest, high quality advice, that this motion would fundamentally undermine."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.