The government’s economies have wreaked a dreadful price on healthcare
Up and down the country, A&Es are struggling. More and more people are facing long waits to be seen, often in pain. More and more patients are being left on trolleys, because they can’t be admitted to hospital wards. And more and more patients are held in the back of ambulances as they queue to come in – and even, as Labour showed last week, being diverted to hospitals further from home.
This is an A&E crisis that started on this government’s watch. When Labour left office, A&E was holding up well with 98% of patients seen within four hours. But since the election, the number of people waiting longer than four hours has nearly trebled.
What is going on? Undoubtedly, the NHS is reeling from David Cameron’s toxic medicine of budget cuts mixed with a wasteful reorganisation that nobody wanted and nobody voted for. Cameron has broken all his promises on the NHS and now patients are paying the price. On his watch, more than 4,000 nursing jobs have been lost. And the closure of many NHS walk-in centres, coupled with the chaos with the 111 helpline, has placed a growing burden on A&E.
But there is a deeper cause too. The government’s devastating cuts to budgets for care mean fewer older people are getting the help they need to stay healthy and independent in their own homes. Council leaders warn that care services are close to collapse.
Last week, I heard directly from front-line NHS staff who have seen how these cruel cuts are affecting A&E. For the lack of simple support at home, older people are struggling and having to come into hospital. And too many become stranded there, due to delays in the NHS arranging discharge plans with overstretched councils.
So we are spending thousands on expensive hospital care when a few pounds at home can keep people well. And with hospital beds not being freed up, the pressure backs up through A&E, which can’t then admit new patients to the ward.
This is what is happening across our NHS right now. It is an unspoken scandal and Labour will not stand for it.
It is bad for older people, bad for all patients using A&E and bad for taxpayers.
Today, to relieve the pressure on A&E, I am announcing that Labour would provide extra support for these vital care services.
In March, George Osborne carried out a silent raid on the NHS budget, grabbing back more than £2bn in “underspends” to massage his budget figures.
By contrast, Labour would return half of this to support our struggling health and care services. We would invest £1.2bn over the next two years to ease the crisis in social care – tackling a root cause of the pressure on A&E.
For older people, this could make a huge difference by enabling them to stay in their own homes for longer and providing the support they need to return home after hospital. For example, it could allow for an extra 70 million hours of home care across England over the next two years, or provide home care for an extra 65,000 older people each year.
Over the longer term, Labour will bring health and care together into a single service to meet all of a person’s care needs – physical, mental and social. Your care would be organised by a single professional who you know, ending the frustration of having to repeat the same story over and over to different people.
Instead of accepting responsibility for the mess it has created, the government has spent recent weeks casting around for scapegoats, blaming GPs, nurses and everyone else. It is just not good enough.
While the causes of the A&E crisis might be complex, the lesson is simple: you can’t trust David Cameron with the NHS.