When the NHS first came into being 71 years ago, the government sent a leaflet to every household in the country with the simple message: “It will relieve your money worries in time of illness.”
The birth of the NHS completely transformed people’s lives, providing universal healthcare for all on the basis of need, free at the point of use.
But as we reflect on the achievements of the past we must also look to the future to ensure there is no erosion of the guiding principles which underpin our most cherished institution.
We have known for some time now that rationing and privatisation are creeping into our NHS, exploiting the gaps created by the Tories’ nine years of cynical mismanagement and fragmentation of the healthcare system. They have imposed the biggest funding squeeze in its history and deliberately pushed services to the brink.
Recently, Halton Clinical Commissioning Group proposed to award Halton’s urgent care contract to a private company. The strong views of local politicians and the public have thankfully compelled the CCG to think again.
I was extremely concerned by the recent publication of a ‘price-list’ for common surgical procedures offered by Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS trust.
Our hospital trust offered ‘My Choice’ as a menu of self-funded treatment for those who are struggling with conditions that have now been categorised by NHS England as ‘restricted’ because they have ‘low or limited clinical value’.
But if these procedures are clinically necessary, shouldn’t they be offered on the NHS? If not in factclinically appropriate, is it right that patients could be offered treatment privately, using NHS staff and placed on NHS waiting lists?
The decision to call this programme ‘My Choice’ for what was essentially an offer of NHS care in an NHS hospital is deeply insulting for anyone who believes in the principle of the NHS being free at the point of service.
There’s a growing sense that people who can afford it could choose to ‘pay their way out of pain’ and we need to know whether our local health commissioners are in effect rationing some common elective procedures by raising the thresholds for eligibility, in the hope that people will start to self-fund.
It is a relief that following calls from campaigners, myself and my Labour colleagues, Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Trust have paused the ‘My Choice’ programme – for the time being.
In the face of these uneasy signs I want to reassure local people that I will always fight to preserve an NHS which is free at the point of use and speak out against those who seek to dismantle our most cherished national institution.