As chair of Labour’s parliamentary health committee and member of the National Policy Forum, I have played a role in the creation of the party’s health manifesto by leading an inquiry which reviewed the effectiveness of international health systems in improving quality and equity. The key finding from this was that privatised health systems threaten health care quality and make health inequalities worse.
It was in the context of this policy work, and in conducting her NHS Check Oldham research in Oldham, that I asked local people to tell their own personal ‘NHS story’. That’s when several people, including Brenda Rustidge, 75, from Oldham, volunteered to tell me hers.
Most of us have had to use the NHS at some point in our lives and the stories I collected ranged from surviving a heart attack to getting advice about not eating a whole head of celery in one sitting!
But Brenda’s story really stood out, and affected me, as her whole family life has been interwoven with the organisation and, because she was born in 1940 before the NHS existed, she experienced the financial difficulties that many working class families faced if they needed medical treatment.
But what worries me now is that the NHS as we know it cannot survive another five years of the Tories and the Lib Dems being allowed to privatise it.
I know from my research into health systems across the world that there is conclusive evidence that in privatised or marketised health systems, health inequalities gets worse, healthcare quality is compromised and care costs more.
We simply can’t trust David Cameron with the NHS. He promised to protect the it but then launched a wasteful £3bn top down re-organisation, created a year-round crisis in A&E, and now waiting lists are at their highest for six years.
The most recent figures show one in five local people now waiting a week or more to see a GP and one in three had to wait ‘a few days’ to see a GP. There just aren’t enough GPs and nurses and only Labour will guarantee a GP appointment in 48 hours or on the same day for those who need one.
Labour’s alternative plan for the NHS, which I’m proud to have worked on, includes securing the future of our NHS with 36,000 more frontline staff with our fully costed £2.5bn Time to Care fund. Time to Care will be funded by money raised from a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million, cracking down on tax avoidance and a new levy on tobacco companies’ profits. We’ll will also guarantee a maximum one-week wait for cancer tests and create a new Cancer Treatments Fund to improve access to drugs, radiotherapy and surgery.
Brenda’s story really inspired me over the last year or so as I worked as a part of the shadow health team on our manifesto. The NHS was created to bring equal health care to all. It’s cherished here and envied across the world and, for me, it’s Brenda’s story that encapsulates everything that’s great about it and why we should always fight to protect it.
Brenda told me that “We all instinctively know how important the NHS is to us but it wasn¹t until Debbie asked me for my own NHS story that I really stopped to think about just how wonderful it has been for me and my family for the last four generations!
“What really worries me is that without Debbie and the Labour Party putting a stop to the Government’s privatisation of the NHS it just won’t be there as we know it for much longer and I worry if it’ll continue to be free at the point of need for my grandchildren and their children.
“Without any doubt the NHS is the most treasured of our country’s institutions and if we don’t get rid of the Tories and Lib Dems we’ll lose it.”
In the video – which is on my Youtube channel or can be view directly at http://youtu.be/voqyFgokY3A – Brenda’s story starts when she is a child in the 1940s. Her family, who were poor because her father became unemployed after the war, had to hide under the window when the local doctor¹s secretary came to their house for payment every Friday afternoon.
With the introduction of the NHS in 1948 Brenda’s parents slowly paid off what they owed to the doctor and could then get free health care. The creation of the NHS and a move to a council house with a large garden on the edge of Oldham meant life ‘blossomed’ for Brenda and her family.
Three of Brenda’s five children needed intensive care after birth but all survived thanks to the NHS. Four of them being boys she would make numerous visits to A&E in the following years!
Recently Brenda herself needed A&E treatment for an eye problem and she describes how she was attended to quickly and the problem was solved.
In the most touching part of the video Brenda talks about her husband undergoing treatment, including two major operations, for cancer and spending 6 weeks in intensive care and a high dependency unit.
My own research shows that currently seven out of ten health services that have been put out to tender have been awarded to private contractors so we are in real danger of losing the NHS as a free, comprehensive and universal service under the Tories and Lib Dems.
Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, who created the NHS in 1948, famously said that there would be an NHS as long as there were folk to fight for it. I am determined to fight for the future of our NHS.