The Tories were in Manchester this week for their annual conference and Prime Minister Johnson promised the “biggest hospital building programme in a generation,” pledging to build 40 new hospitals over the next decade, including one for us in the Pennine Acute Hospital group. But ex Tory MP, Ben Howlett, was quick to expose the spin on the Tory announcement, revealing that they were spending £2.7bn on just six existing hospitals – not 40 new ones, not including Pennine Acute Hospital. And even the BBC had to delete this announcement because of its inaccuracies. This key policy for PM Johnson has quickly unravelled to be nothing but fabrication.
When asked about how the Government will fund the other 34 hospitals referred to, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted on Sky News that the money “will come in the future”, possibly from the Magic Money Tree?
To put this into perspective, NHS Providers (which represents hospitals in England) said the NHS’s annual capital spending of around £6bn needs to double over the next five to 10 years to meet its needs, to make up for a “a decade of capital squeeze”. Figures show that in 2018/19 there were 2.9 million people waiting longer than four hours in A&E, compared to just over 350,000 in 2009/10. Similarly, the number of people waiting more than 2 weeks for urgent cancer treatment has more than trebled from 45,969 in 2009/10 to 179,260 in the same period.
£2.7bn is therefore a drop in the water when you consider the catastrophic harm this Government has inflicted on our NHS.
Unsurprisingly, out of the six NHS hospitals which have been allocated this funding, four are based in the South of England and one in the Midlands – with only one trust located in the North, and that is over the Pennines in Leeds. Amongst the eagle-eyed, who have looked at the list of hospitals, you will notice that the majority are in Tory marginal constituencies. This is far from the largest hospital building project in a generation and it looks increasingly like a political fix.
If the government really wants the best for our NHS, it will implement a comprehensive plan to tackle staffing shortages in the NHS and social care and help keep people well for as long as possible and out of hospital when they don’t need to be there.
Labour created our NHS and once again a Labour Government will have to save it from the decline the Tories always impose. Labour will scrap prescription charges, because everyone deserves access to medicine, free of charge, as is the case in Wales and in Scotland. We will increase the number of GP trainees in England, providing 27 million extra GP appointments each year, as everyone should be able to see a GP when the need arises. And we will increase funding for mental health, which we know is severely under-funded by this Government. These are the kind of things that really matter.
Unfortunately, this Government has proven yet again that they cannot be trusted with our NHS. PM Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock should be honest with their health announcements. Is that really too much to ask?
This article was originally published in the Rochdale Observer on 5 September 2019.