Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Southwark News Column: NHS at 70

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As we mark the NHS turning 70 this month it’s impossible to look back and overstate just how much its creation by the then Labour government meant to people’s lives in Britain in 1948, and still means today.

Before its introduction only people who earned enough could see a doctor or get treatment. For the first time in 1948 the NHS meant people who couldn’t afford to take their sick children or elderly relatives to the GP suddenly found that they could get the treatment they needed and women who hadn’t been able to afford to have their babies in hospital safely could now do so.

70 years on the NHS has grown to 1 million dedicated and compassionate staff, it is a beacon of equality around the world and remains our most cherished national institution. The NHS represents that sense that we all have a duty to each other, we pay in collectively and it is there for us whenever we need it. 

But after 8 years of Tory government all around us now we see the effect of the cuts. For example at King’s College Hospital, which is a fantastic and important hospital for people locally, A & E waiting times are missed, cancer treatment targets are missed, there’s been an increase in cancelled operations, and the chair, Sir Bob Kerslake, resigned in December because he said it was impossible to cut the amount government are asking them to cut without affecting patient care.

We see cuts at the Maudsley Hospital pushing down the pay and conditions of those contracted to work there and large numbers of vacancies in nursing staff. Particularly worrying is that when I visited psychiatrists at the hospital they told me that when they have someone who is psychotic and paranoid who needs to be sectioned because they’re at risk to themselves or others in the community, cuts to policing mean there are a shortage of police to go with doctors to safely take the person to the Maudsley and sometimes they have to wait weeks before they get the treatment they so desperately need. During that time that person and their family suffer terribly and sometimes are at risk of violence. The Maudsley team only decide to section someone if they have tried everything else and that person is in crisis.  They can’t wait. I have written to the Minister to demand that she tackle these unacceptable delays and am liaising with the police as well. 

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, claims the Government is spending more than ever on the NHS. But in reality they have cut £20 billion since 2010 and spend 3% less a year than was spent by the last Labour government. When Labour got back into Government in 1997 we made one of our key 5 pledges cutting waiting times and we trebled investment in the NHS. Soon waiting times were coming down and people were no longer coming to my advice surgery asking for help with cancelled operations or unable to get on a GP’s list. More was invested in community services, mental health and GP practices, crumbling hospitals were rebuilt and staffing was massively increased.

That’s why there’s such a need for Labour to get back into government. To not only protect, but advance the NHS.

The 70th anniversary of the NHS is a time to reflect and recognise that, though healthcare has completely changed, the principles at its foundation are as important as ever. I have made the NHS my constituency priority for 2018 and am working with Labour Southwark MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle and Southwark Council to use this anniversary year to intensify our support for our local NHS and our demands to the Government to give the NHS the money it needs.

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