May 19: Three tests for PM’s 24/7 NHS

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THE contrast could not be greater. While Labour implodes over its future leadership and influence of union barons like Len McCluskey, the Prime Minister continues to set the agenda on those policies that were previously the exclusive preserve of the political left.

First, there was a symbolic speech that committed his Government to unlocking the economic potential of cities across the North. Then David Cameron spoke of a desire for a new generation of headteachers to help boost social mobility amongst the young. And now he has reiterated his commitment to a seven-day-a-week NHS.

The Conservative leader’s ambition should not be faulted. There is a great disparity between hospital care on weekdays – and that afforded to patients at weekends – which needs addressing. And waiting times for outpatients will only be kept checked if scanners and other diagnostic equipment can be used at all times.

However Mr Cameron’s determination did mask three flaws that the Government still needs to remedy. First, the cost. This plan is in addition to the extra £8bn that the Tories have pledged to find in order to implement the reforms set out by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens. Where is the money coming from?

Second, the staff. The demonisation of the healthcare profession by successive governments means there is not a ready-made pool of doctors and nurses ready to step into the breach. Unless more medical staff are recruited from overseas, or there is a greater reliance on “locums”, staff shortages will be here to stay.

Finally, GP cover. If the NHS is to function effectively, more health centres need to extend their opening hours in order to ease the pressure on A&E units. However one-third of GPs are due to retire in the next five years, a sad state of affairs which will play into the hands of Mr Cameron’s embattled opponents unless he confronts concerns about cost and staffing at the earliest opportunity.

Vote of confidence

Sheffield city centre forges ahead

NEARLY 25 years after Meadhowhall shopping centre opened its doors for the first time, and paved the way for a succession of out-of-town malls to be built around the country, the retail landscape in Sheffield is set to go full circle after council leaders set out new plans for the city centre two years after the demise of the Sevenstone scheme.

Not only is today’s announcement a significant vote of confidence in the South Yorkshire economy, but the ambition of the plan shows how city centres can still thrive as major shopping destinations and compete against the likes of Meadowhall or those online retailers who are becoming increasingly influential in this sector.

The symbolism is important – private businesses are more likely to pour money into those areas where major investment and development work is taking place. This project certainly signifies that Sheffield is open for business.

However the city can’t afford to stand still if it is to compete against regional rivals. While Sheffield is already home to two

highly successful John Lewis department stores, the first branch will only open in Leeds city centre when the long-awaited Eastgate scheme is completed.

Yet, by devising a scheme that makes the most of this retail opportunity

and Sheffield’s industrial past, there is no reason

why the city cannot prosper in the months and years ahead as one of the country’s premier business, retail and leisure destinations.

Good neighbours

Mutual trust is key to happiness

HOW times change. To families of a certain vintage, it was commonplace to leave a spare key with neighbours in the event of an emergency. The mutual trust was such that people did not think twice about asking – it would have been discourteous not to do so in the post-war period.

Contrast this with today’s society where neighbours are, in many instances, complete strangers. According to a new survey, just one in 10 people in Leeds possesses a spare key on behalf of people living nearby. The reasons for this can be complex – shyness is one factor while the advent of computers and mobile technology does mean people can lead far more insular lifestyles. Changing work patterns is another consideration.

However this should not preclude people from being good neighbours. Not only can this lead to happier communities but also greater awareness of those, like the elderly, who do not have the luxury of family or friends looking out for them on a regular basis.