Andy Burnham: Hunt’s attitude on the NHS betrays his complacency

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WHEN people say it is getting harder to get a GP appointment, it’s the fault of those lazy GPs. When people say there aren’t enough nurses, he says these modern nurses just don’t care anymore. And when people point out that hospital A&Es have not hit his A&E target for over a year, it’s all the fault of NHS England.

This is classic Jeremy Hunt. When in a corner, quickly point at someone else. When he’s in a really big hole, the Health Secretary’s failsafe is to blame the last Labour government.

Responding to my claim that NHS services are being forced out to tender, he tweeted that privatisation of the NHS “isn’t happening”.

Try telling that, Jeremy, to the group of mums from Darlington who just walked 300 miles to protest about it, and the hundreds of Yorkshire people who joined them. Or to the GP surgery who tweeted this in reply: “@HonitonSurgery: privatisation isn’t happening? Really? Our school nurses & health visitors now work for Virgin & not the NHS!”. Or the Halifax GP who wrote to his patients to warn them that the situation is no longer safe.

Hunt has asked six questions of Labour.

1. How can people trust them to increase the NHS budget?

The last Labour government proudly corrected the chronic under-funding of the NHS in the Thatcher-Major years. We were able to do this because of the strength of the Labour economy in the 10 years before the world-wide financial crash. We have now reaffirmed the NHS as our number one funding priority and people will trust us because of our track record.

Trust on NHS finance is, in fact, a bigger issue for the Tories. The last Tory manifesto promised “real-terms increases” for the NHS but they actually delivered a real-terms cut early in the Parliament. From within this flat budget, over £3bn has been diverted from the front-line to pay for back-office reorganisation. This helps explain the growing financial problems in the NHS.

2. Where would £2.5bn really come from?

The new money for the NHS will come from a new Mansion Tax, measures to end tax avoidance and a new levy on tobacco companies. Labour has conservatively pitched the proceeds of the Mansion Tax at £1.2bn – half a billion pounds less than the Lib Dems estimated at the last election. If the Tories want to clear up any questions about our spending plans, then they should let the independent Office of Budget Responsibility audit them as we have requested.

3. Is Andy Burnham proposing an NHS reorganisation?

No. Unlike Andrew Lansley, I will work with the organisations I inherit. There will be no structural reorganisation. But the way we provide services will need to change. Hospital trusts are already looking to provide more and more services out of hospital and we will encourage that.

4. Why no apology for Mid Staffs?

Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson both issued full apologies to the people of Stafford when the care failings were revealed. I repeated that apology when I received the first Francis report in February 2010 and Ed Miliband did so again when the second Francis report was published in February 2013. Robert Francis concluded that the principal cause of the appalling care was the failure of the trust board to ensure adequate staffing levels. It is now time for the Conservative Party to stop trying to politicise this tragic failing and commit to increasing nurse numbers like Labour has done this week.

5. Where is the detail to support Labour’s health and social care integration policy?

Last Wednesday, we issued a number of steps that we would take to put the NHS on a path towards full integration. We will start by repealing the Health & Social Care Act which is fragmenting services, by forcing doctors to tender them, and wasting millions on competition lawyers.

We will reinstate the NHS as our preferred provider.

We will ensure a single commissioning plan for those with complex needs, bringing together budgets at local level, and create a powerful incentive to provide better care outside hospital. These proposals are based on the recommendations of Sir John Oldham’s Commission for Whole Person Care.

6. What is Labour’s justification for saying the NHS is on its knees?

Hospital A&Es have missed the Government’s lowered A&E target for over a year; waiting lists are now at a six-year high; the NHS recently missed the national cancer target for the first time; the Government’s own GP taskforce says “there is a GP workforce crisis” and people are waiting longer to get appointments.

Given the above, Jeremy Hunt’s claims that the NHS is in fact doing well may well strike people as dangerously complacent.

Andy Burnham is a Labour MP and the Shadow Health Secretary. He is writing in response to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s column in The Yorkshire Post on Monday.