This week, our NHS turns 73 years old. Everyone has a story about how the NHS has supported them or a loved one in a time of need. The introduction of the NHS completely transformed people’s lives, giving access to world-class healthcare to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.
However, even before the pandemic hit, we’ve seen waiting lists rise, beds cut and thousands of vacancies leaving NHS staff exhausted and overstretched.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the phenomenal NHS staff who have delivered lifesaving work, even in the toughest times.
We should all celebrate the creation of the NHS. But we also need to ensure there is a proper NHS rescue plan for the future.
Recent research has shown that at Oxford University Hospitals’ Trust, a staggering 31.1% percent of patients – almost one in three of them- have been waiting more than 18 weeks (the operational standard) to start routine NHS treatment. Our hospitals are no different from others – that kind of wait has now become standard across the NHS.
Alongside my Labour colleagues, I am pushing Ministers to adopt an NHS recovery plan that includes action to bring down waiting lists and ensure everyone can access the care they need.
It is a national scandal that there are now over five million people on NHS waiting lists. That’s thirty-three Oxfords worth of people, all awaiting treatment. Some of these waits are eyewatering. I heard last week of a local woman in her late twenties, requiring a hip replacement- who was told that her wait for surgery would stretch to over a year.
Of course, Covid has worsened an already ballooning problem. The NHS waiting list had already almost doubled between 2010 and 2019, to 4.5million before the crisis struck.
To tackle it, Labour is calling for a quarterly plan from ministers on action being taken – ensuring that the NHS has the staff and modern equipment to deliver the cancer care, surgery and mental health care patients deserve. To underpin this, ministers need to commit to strengthen the NHS constitution, to eliminate waits of over a year, which have become increasingly frequent.
It is also crucial that NHS staff are being properly supported to deliver a high standard of care and are rewarded for the incredible effort they have put in over the past year and a half. For that reason, I have consistently called for a fair pay rise for our NHS staff, rather than the real-terms pay cut which they are currently slated to receive.
So this week, let’s celebrate our National Health Service turning 73. But let’s also fight for its future.