Save the NHS
Thank you for contacting me with respect to the important subject of saving our NHS.
Are you proud of the NHS?
A number of people have contacted me and said that the NHS is one of the things the UK can be most proud of and that they will not vote for any politician unless they trust that politician to protect it.
I think the NHS is a great organisation of which I am very proud. My mother worked for the NHS for over 30 years. She was an Operating Theatre Sister at Frank James Hospital, East Cowes from 1970 until it closed and at St Marys until she retired. And my wife works for the NHS National Institute for Health Research based at University of Southampton. I also believe that the NHS should be protected, improved and developed so that it can continue to provide at excellent service.
Do you support privatisation?
I do not want to see the NHS privatised and I will always resist any attempts by anyone to do so.
Do you oppose future NHS contracts going to private companies?
I accept, like previous Governments have, that there may be a role in the delivery of NHS services for private sector and third sector i.e. voluntary, charity and other other non-profit organisations, like MacMillan and the Terrence Higgins Trust have provided important services for patients. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the NHS should always remain free and be based on patients' needs and not on their ability to pay. These principles form the core of Liberal Democrat health policy and will remain a key part of our plan to create the fairer society we all want to see in the UK.
Do you support the properly NHS funding?
There is a squeeze on the NHS funding and the principle reason for that is that we are all living longer and the size of the elderly population is growing larger. This is thanks in large part to the advances in treatments from the NHS and that we have had an unparalleled period of peace in our history. This is particularly true if you compare the first and second halves of the 20th century. The combination of the two means that the size of the elderly population is growing and that more treatments are able to everyone, which all has an obvious knock on affect for the NHS.
The only answer is to make sure the NHS is properly funded. This is why I want to make sure that the NHS is protected and funded properly so that it can continue to provide a first class service for UK residents. I'm pleased that Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb has announced that if the Liberal Democrats form part of the next Government we will not only protect the NHS budget, but boost NHS funding by £8bn a year by 2020. This extra cash is in line with the recommendation of a recent report into the future of the health service from NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens.
Also if in government after the election the Liberal Democrats would also commission an independent fundamental review of NHS and social care finances in 2015, before the next spending review, to assess the pressures on the NHS and social care budgets.
TTIP vs NHS
An number of people have also asked me would I vote in favour of the TTIP trade deal with America, or would I demand safeguards to make 100% sure our health service is kept out of it?
I would not vote in favour TTIP unless safeguards are in place to keep our health services and other public services ruled out of scope. Currently my understanding is that the European Commission has clarified that public services will be explicitly ruled out from the scope of any market liberalisation in TTIP. Therefore, it will have no effect on the ability of local NHS commissioners to decide who delivers services to patients
Competition in the NHS
The last Labour government introduced competition into the NHS, through the Competition Act 1998, the Enterprise Act 2002 and the Public Sector Procurement Regulations 2006. Labour also introduced greater private sector involvement in the NHS, including bringing in a number of controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals and privatising Hinchingbrooke Hospital.
The Health and Social Care Act induced by the coalition government manages how this competition takes place and I'm pleased that Liberal Democrats successfully fought for new rules to ensure that Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) would not be expected to competitively tender services unless they felt it was in the interests of their patients.
The Health and Social Care Act made it very clear that the Secretary of State for Health remains responsible for the NHS, both politically and legally. This was a very important concession secured by Liberal Democrats in Parliament and represented a significant victory against the original Conservative proposals.
I was also pleased that my party has backed new proposals at our recent party conference in Glasgow to end the role of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in health and make the rules clear that the needs of patients will always come ahead of competition.
Record in Government
Liberal Democrats in Government have introduced measures to ensure that patients are at the heart of NHS decision-making. We are improving support for mental health services and we are making sure that health and social care is better co-ordinated to meet the needs of patients and their carers. Cutting NHS bureaucracy has saved over £1bn a year, allowing significant increases in the recruitment of frontline staff. There are now 13,000 more doctors, nurses and other frontline staff than in 2010.
As well as being financially well-supported, the NHS must be run fairly too. That's why Liberal Democrats in Government put a stop to Labour's policies that gave private health companies special treatment. Labour paid £250m to these companies for operations that were never performed. They also paid private sector providers on average 11% more than the NHS for the same service. This kind of favouritism has now been made illegal. This is why the rate of outsourcing to private sector companies has slowed down. Under the previous Labour government private sector outsourcing was 4.4% of spending now it has only risen 1.5% to 5.9%.
Proper accountability and transparency in the way the NHS is run is also vital, and I'm pleased that Liberal Democrats have ensured that local authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees will now be able to get evidence from any healthcare provider - including private ones - and summon them to a public scrutiny committee sessions.
I hope this has reassured you that protecting and supporting the NHS is one of my top priorities.