Rosie Duffield MP column
The NHS is the greatest achievement of the Labour movement. The guarantee of world class healthcare, free at the point of use, is something for which everyone in this country can be truly grateful and of which we can be truly proud.
National treasures, however, require safeguarding, and for the last 9 years the NHS has been under the careless and neglectful stewardship of successive Tory governments. Under austerity, our health services have been cut to the bone with no regard for the impact on people’s lives.
As a result of the downgrading of Kent and Canterbury Hospital, local people face lengthy ambulance journeys to get to Accident and Emergency. In December 2017, it took an average of 54 minutes for an ambulance to reach CT5 postcodes, with the longest wait being 1 hour 49 minutes, when a car ride between Canterbury and Whitstable will take only 20 minutes.
Talking with my constituents, I hear horror stories. I hear from Roberta, who had to wait for 11 hours overnight at A&E to have her 80-year-old husband’s gastric feeding tube refitted. I hear from Claire, who went to A&E with her sick 6-month-old and spent 5 hours standing, holding her baby, because there were no beds or even seats available.
My constituents know that it is not NHS staff who are to blame for these conditions; they know it was not nurses that voted through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, nor was it doctors who misled the public on health reforms. Doctors and nurses and cleaners and midwives and receptionists are the NHS’s lifeblood, and throughout a decade of Conservative rule we have seen them overworked and underpaid.
At last week’s Conservative Party Conference, Boris Johnson promised 40 new hospitals, and subsequently told an audience that one of these would be in Canterbury. I had hoped that this was a genuine announcement and that the Prime Minister had recognised the dire need for the fully funded hospitals across East Kent that I have long campaigned for, both before and since my election as Canterbury’s MP.
For the sake of my constituents, I would much rather have had my cynicism about this announcement proved wrong. However it now appears that this ‘announcement’ is just the latest in a long line of gaffes and that, following a clarification from the Department for Health, the Prime Minster was indeed incorrect to say that Canterbury would be benefiting from a new hospital in this latest funding round.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock will no doubt be dispatched to East Kent to smooth things over with the local NHS staff, campaigners & politicians, and rightly so. But frankly, I also think that the Prime Minister needs to retract his comments and apologise for raising hopes of patients and NHS staff in Canterbury like this.
In my maiden speech in the House of Commons I said that the NHS is this country’s sickest patient; this remains the case. But with the threat of a No Deal Brexit looming, Boris Johnson’s continued incompetence over policy detail could see this situation go from bad to worse.