Just days into the new year, the NHS is once again mired in crisis. Last week brought news of the deaths of two patients following waits on trolleys in corridors of well over 24 hours, and there have been numerous reports of other patients who have been forced to wait for days on end for urgent treatment.
This terrible news was compounded by the publication of research by the Nuffield Trust health thinktank, which showed that one in three English NHS trusts were at the highest or second highest level of pressure in the run up to Christmas.
Many local people have also contacted me in recent weeks to raise concerns about NHS services in our region, including access to GP services. Statistics I obtained from the government late last year show that the number of full-time equivalent GPs in Sunderland has plummeted by 25 % since 2013. The rate at which we are losing doctors is also accelerating. It’s clear that this problem is only going to get worse in years to come unless government ministers step in.
Despite the outstanding work of our NHS staff who are doing their best in extremely difficult circumstances, GP practices, hospitals and ambulance services in England have now reached breaking point.
Yet while those working in our NHS say they’ve never experienced a winter crisis like this, the Prime Minister and her Health Secretary continue to deny that there is an issue. Jeremy Hunt even had the gall to blame patients for going to A&E when they feel unwell.
The government’s wilful ignorance of this crisis comes as no surprise to Labour. Our warnings last autumn that the NHS would face its toughest ever winter unless more funding was allocated to front-line services were ignored by ministers then, and our calls for urgent investment are still being disregarded now.
This is simply not good enough. Over the last seven years, the government’s total failure to provide NHS and social care services with enough funding, as well as its needless and botched shake-up of the NHS, has turned the winter crisis into an annual event.
Those with long memories will remember the disastrous state that the Tories left the NHS in 1997. Twenty years on, history is repeating itself. The NHS is simply not safe in Tory hands.