Speaking as part of a panel which included candidates standing in both of Islington's constituencies (but no Conservative candidate from either constituency), I took the opportunity last night to speak out on the need to preserve the NHS as a world class public service, and to repeal the Tories' disastrous Health and Social Care Act, which has opened the floodgates to privatisation of the entire NHS.
Long waiting lists and increasing strains on A&E departments have had an especially severe impact in Islington after five years of Tory governmetn. Since 2010, 63,613 patients within Barts Health NHS Trust, and 18,905 people within Whittington Hospital NHS Trust, have waited more than four hours to be seen at A&E. There are also 1,997 more people on waiting lists for treatment under the Whittington trust now than there were in 2010.
I'm one of the generation that remembers what happened to the NHS the last time the Tories were in power. In 1997, there were more hospitals that had been built before the NHS was formed than had been built since 1945. Patients were being treated in what were basically Victorian workhouses, and we had thousands of people languishing in pain on waiting lists, denied the treatment they desperately needed.
After 13 years of a Labour government that breathed new life into the health service, raising National Insurance to give it the investment it needed and rebuilding or refurbishing more than a hundred crumbling hospitals, the Tories have now set about systematically dismantling the NHS.
The effects of this are now clear to see, in Islington and across the country. Competition law has tied hospitals up in red tape, and the combination of long waiting lists, lack of access to GPs and the downgrading of the 111 service has put A&E services under immense strain. And staff morale has fallen to an all time low as the government has interfered with contracts and denied staff even the meagre 1% pay rise recommended by the independent pay review board.
What we desperately need is an NHS with the time to care. The next Labour government, like the last one, will save the NHS from Tory ruin by repealing the Health and Social Care Act and investing enough to recruit 20,000 new nurses and 8,000 new GPs. We will guarantee access to a GP appointment within 48 hours, and we will integrate health and social care, on the model of the Whittington Hospital, so that care will be co-ordinated to meet the whole of a person's needs. We will do whatever it takes to save the NHS.
Last night my fellow candidates were tied up in knots over the NHS. Not a single one of them was able to articulate a workable plan for preserving the NHS as a world class public service, and the Tories – alone among the parties – failed to even send a candidate. It's not hard to see why. I think they're ashamed of what their government has done to the NHS, and they should be.