The YP comment (August 16): Staff are NHS unsung heroes

It would be disingenuous not to begin a debate about the National Health Service’s future without acknowledging the immense contribution made by all those medical and support staff who go the extra mile on a daily basis to provide their patients with the best possible care. They are the public face of the NHS and are doing an extraordinary job in very difficult circumstances.

This is illustrated by the sheer volume of letters sent to this newspaper by patients acknowledging the quality of care that they have received locally. Their shock at national scandals like the one at Mid Staffordshire has been compounded by the fact that the shameful treatment of patients these cases highlight could not be at greater odds with their own experience.

The NHS is not perfect, hence the continuing need for safeguards to maintain standards and ensure that waiting times never return to the unacceptable levels endured in the 1990s.

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However, it will be very difficult to square this proverbial circle without facing up to the financial challenges highlighted today as The Yorkshire Post begins its own Big Debate on the NHS – looking at how GP surgeries, hospitals and community care providers can respond to the challenges of an ageing society at a time of financial restraint.

The scale of such a task is underlined by projections which show hospitals in Leeds are likely to be £42m in the red at the end of the current financial year, despite making efficiencies of £50m. Nationally, the shortfall will be some £30bn by 2021, almost half the cost of the proposed HS2 route, unless the NHS is reformed.

Yet, at the same time, York’s NHS trust is considering the use of bonuses to attract doctors of a sufficient calibre, GP services are at breaking point and town halls are struggling to meet the expectations of the elderly and infirm because of pressures on the community care budget.

Should more money be spent on the NHS? Are there too many bureaucrats? Should GPs have greater obligations for out-of-hours care? These are three of the many questions being raised by the Big Debate – and the response of readers will be critical to determining the future of the National Health Service in Yorkshire. It is a debate that must be had. After all, the NHS is the one service that affects everyone.

Election funding

IT WILL surprise some that the Conservatives trail Labour and Liberal Democrats when it comes to the volume of political donations that the main parties have received locally in the past year. In fairness, Labour’s figure is inflated by the party’s historic link with the trade unions while part of the allowances paid to Lib Dem councillors is set aside for campaign work.

However, the Conservatives are still the traditional party of business and Yorkshire is the key electoral battleground that will determine if David Cameron can win a Commons majority next May.

That said, the figures do not justify Mr Cameron’s party propping up its election machine with donations from relations to various Russian oligarchs. Quite the opposite. It is a reminder about the need for transparency – domestic politics should not be left to the whims of foreign donors – and why the onus should be on the parties to generate more money locally.

If they do so, they might – just – halt the damaging decline in their membership levels and begin to rebuild the relationship between MPs and voters which has become so strained in recent times following the erosion of trust and also the expenses scandal.

Symbol of summer

IN AN era when county cricket finds itself usurped by the national obsession with football, the passage of time has not dimmed the enthusiasm of those diehards who flock to the Scarborough Cricket Festival – a great symbol of summer – to watch their beloved Yorkshire.

This was self-evident yesterday; spectators relaxing on pin-striped deckchairs and watching Yorkshire’s bowlers hustling the Sussex batsmen under the midday sun as a flock of seagulls squawked from their own vantage point above North Marine Road.

On the 50th anniversary of Fred Trueman becoming the first bowler in history to take 300 Test wickets when he claimed Neil Hawke’s scalp – who can forget John Arlott’s husky burr ‘There was no nicer touch than Trueman congratulating Hawke’? – the self-proclaimed ‘t’ greatest fast bowler who ever drew breath’ would be proud that the ever-changing cricket calendar still finds time for the Scarborough Festival. Long may this continue.