Letters, Saturday, March 31st, 2012

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Grasp the nettle over NHS reforms

NOW that it is over 60 years old, the NHS must continue to evolve with the times to meet the demands of both an ageing population and to harness the opportunities offered by new medicines.

That is why the Health and Social Care Bill will maintain the core principle of the NHS – free treatment regardless of ability to pay – and support it by increasing funding by £12.5billion during this Parliament.

Unfortunately this increase – equivalent to a 2.8 per cent growth in Sunderland – is opposed by the Labour Party.

In fact the last Labour Government left office promising 20 per cent cuts to all departments and refused to back the Conservative ring-fencing of Health, protecting the NHS from the worst effects of the deficit.

Having committed themselves to cuts, the next step for the Labour Party was to oppose reforms which Tony Blair had backed saying they were “things we started” including competition and choice.

Despite agreeing to the core change – GP commissioning – opponents have seized on selective criticism, including a poll by the Royal College of GPs in which only six per cent of respondents came out against the measures.

But bringing healthcare closer to patients and GPs makes sense and contrasts with a top-down approach under the last government which resulted in a 15 per cent fall in productivity, according to Labour MP Margaret Hodge.

Those in favour include Tony Blair’s health adviser Julian Le Grand who said the reforms were “where we would like to have gone” and Dr Zack Cooper of the LSE who said competition leads to “strong improvements in patient outcomes”.

This last point – competition – has fallen victim to ideological stubbornness that ignores the fact that having a range of providers can benefit patients where it boosts quality and offers choice.

Private provision and competition already exist in the NHS, such as the Macmillan Cancer Support Programme, but what is new is a statutory duty to reduce health inequalities which will benefit Sunderland.

So there is a choice: to grasp the nettle and build on reforms backed by the more progressive elements of the Labour Party or give in to those who put scare stories first and progress second.

Councillor Robert Oliver, Leader, Conservative Council Group

Truth on pensions

IN your “Views on the News” item (Saturday, March 24) Jean White and Alan Hutchinson complained about the Budget changes affecting pensioners.

I agree that it is unfair that pensions are taxed, but this is not new and was the case under the last Labour Government. The difference is the Conservative-led Government said they would improve pensions and they have.

By April 2012 the state pension will have increased by £9.55 per week in the two years since the Conservative-led Government came to power. Using the mechanism now in place, pensions will increase significantly again in 2013, leaving all pensioners much better off.

No pensioners will face a cash loss. Over five million of the poorest pensioners will not be affected at all. The change comes as the personal allowance in general is being raised to £10,000 and there is no need to have a separate allowance for pensioners. Having separate allowances for pensioners was highlighted by the Office of Tax Simplification as a particularly complicated feature of the tax system. This change will simplify the tax system, without pensioners facing cash loss.

Compare this with the record of the last Labour Government who awarded pensioners a derisory 75p a week increase and raided pension funds. A report, The UK Pensions Crises, showed that Gordon Brown’s tax raid on pension funds has cost pensioners £157billion. Millions of people saw the value of their pensions fall by a quarter. Ros Altman, a former pension’s advisor to Tony Blair has said: “Labour’s administration will go down in history as decimating our once-great private pension provision.”

Terrence Docherty, Zetland Square, Monkwearmouth

Follow example

TO all those people who think that the City of Adelaide would be a waste of time, money and resources, I would strongly urge you to go to Hartlepool and see and old ship called the Trincomalee.

Only 60 per cent of it is original, but what a magnificent sight. Can Sunderland City Council not see the financial potential of bringing the City of Adelaide back to Sunderland and displaying it (after renovation) like Hartlepool has done with their ship?

The Trincomalee is hired out for weddings, Christmas dinners, films and television, school parties plus the general public. What is to stop Sunderland from copying it?

I think that Sunderland has quite enough charity shops and “value shops”. Time to go a bit up market.

Robert Tomlinson, The Avenue, Deneside, Seaham

Reunion success

I WOULD like to thank everyone who attended Wearmouth Colliery reunion and made it such a success. Special thanks to everyone at Millview Club, the girls at All Seasons and husband Gordon and the people who telephoned around. Without your help it wouldn’t be such a success.

See you all next year. God Bless you all.

Muriel Tully, Kayll Road, Sunderland