AS health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Labour opposite number Andy Burnham clashed bitterly over ambulance response times, and whether there is a case for extending them, it was left to the Archbishop of York to speak for the most important people of all – the patients and taxpayers.
Like so many people, Dr John Sentamu is exasperated that the National Health Service has been allowed to become a political football and is fearful that yesterday’s venomous exchanges will become even more vitriolic prior to the election. It is why he has called for a political pact that challenges the main parties to be more collaborative and respectful of the NHS and education’s status as “national treasures”.
Dr Sentamu’s consensual style of politics has already yielded significant dividends – his positive style of campaigning has been instrumental in raising awareness about the ‘living wage’ – and the pointscoring of both Mr Hunt and the Shadow Health Secretary is hardly conducive to improving the morale of hard-working NHS staff at a critical time of the year.
Both men are at fault. If a plan is being considered to increase the target time for ambulances to reach seriously-ill patients from eight to 19 minutes, and the leaked documents suggest that this is the case, it was remiss of Mr Hunt not to outline to this to Parliament on Thursday when questioned about the NHS ‘winter crisis’. Such an oversight does not inspire confidence.
Equally, it was irresponsible of Mr Burnham to imply that stroke victims will be waiting significantly longer for a paramedic when the Department of Health says that any change will not apply to “immediately life-threatening” incidents. He implied that Labour would provide more ambulances and staff, but was vague on the detail – or funding.
What both politicians did not highlight is the common ground that they do share. Both do want the best for patients and both want more money spent on the NHS.
However, the challenges confronting the health and ambulance services will not be solved by Mr Hunt and Mr Burnham denigrating each other.
As Dr Sentamu says: “Enough is enough!” This war of words is not a remedy and is the public duty of both men to work together so the NHS can plan for the future with confidence – and without the knockabout politics which is so damaging to the organisation’s wellbeing.
Society’s scourge: Drugs the common denominator
THE NHS is not the only organisation facing difficult decisions on funding. The same applies to the police with Sheffield-born Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police’s commissioner, warning that public safety will be at risk unless radical measures are taken to deal with cuts.
Yet the challenges facing the NHS and the police are linked by one common denominator – drugs. Misuse remains one of the biggest drains on the public purse and this scourge on society diverts vital resources away from treating the elderly, or making sure that vulnerable senior citizens remain safe in their home.
It is an issue which must not be left on the political back-burner. The status quo is not an option. And the same applies to so-called ‘legal highs’ after Yorkshire’s two largest police forces reported a 25-fold increase in offences allied to those chemical substances not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
However, the police appear to be powerless to close down those shops which persist in selling substances which can be as dangerous as Class A drugs. This is wrong – there
should be nothing ‘legal’ about those chemical concoctions designed to produce similar effects to cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy – and closing this loophole must be a political priority in 2015.
Open opportunity: Learning from The Apprentice
THE CONTRAST could not be greater. While Mark Wright, the Australian-born winner hired by Sir Alan Sugar on television’s The Apprentice, is basking in his success and describing Britain as “a land of opportunity” where “you can start a business here from your kitchen bench and turn over a million quid”, the CBI is highlighting a growing skills crisis.
While half of firms plan to recruit more staff next year, many vacancies may not be filled because of a shortage of suitably qualified candidates who lack the get up and go of The Apprentice’s finalists. Is it the education service at fault – or is this indicative of younger people’s work ethic? Either way, it is an enormous waste of human potential when two million Britons are jobless. Despite the record fall in unemployment, it is a battle which is still to be won.