The unspoken rule of by-elections is that Labour attacks the Tories on health and the Tory candidate has to mumble something about being fully committed to it and then moving on to the economy, jobs, or something else at which we outshine labour. There are a lot of things we outshine labour on.
This is why we should stop being too shy about our record on delivering healthcare. It really is quite good. For a party committed to private ownership, the free market and individual liberty we have done a very good job stabilising the NHS in England.
Health spending in England since 2011 has risen faster than in Scotland. We have more than doubled the marginal rate tariff brought in by Labour from 30% to 70% so A&Es are paid more according to the work they do. The NHS now has a constitution committing to patient and professionals rights. Conservatives held public enquiries into Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay NHS trusts.
The Francis and Kirkup reports that followed have introduced minimum nurse ratios for the first time and overhauled midwifery in the greatest shake up to training and supervision in decades. To quote the late John F. Kennedy: there are some things we choose to do not because they are easy but because they are hard.
We need more nurses, we accept we do and we have introduced nurse associates and nurse apprenticeships to boost numbers. Meeting minimum nurse ratios will take time and effort and that means some nurses will be recruited from overseas but that is how you get numbers up fast.
For the first time, because of Brexit, all new nurses and doctors will have their English assessed at a clinical level, not just to ensure passable conversation. Documentation and communication are essential in patient safety and plans afoot show our commitment. Before 2010 if you dared suggest this was an issue you would be called a racist and ignored, we see the consequences today.
We have made the Clinical Quality Commission fit for purpose; it now finds problems and proposes improvements, instead of publishing good news for the sake of popular government. That is a big change.
We have kept the most needed walk in centres to take the load of A&Es and have piloted putting GPs in A&E, and this will continue. More pharmacies than ever before offer treatment in store for minor ailments and this helps GPs and A&Es too.
We have also piloted advanced paramedic practitioners to see patients and direct them away from A&E or at least have them transported by Medicar instead of by ambulance. This means more ambulances to respond to blue light, life threatening emergencies. It is about working smarter as well as harder.
We have also taken patient education seriously. Education about lifestyles and about the safety of their medicines. The Insulin Passport was introduced by the Conservatives to give the best advice and record keeping for diabetics and is helping to cut avoidable and dangerous incidents for those patients for whom insulin is a lifeline.
Finally, we tackled head on the issue of militancy in the workforce. All contract talks are hard and that is even more so with a monopoly employer. Still the decision by some militants to act on behalf of thousands of junior doctors in calling for strikes in emergency services was reckless and actively encouraged by Labour’s leadership. That is all they care about, good news for them and bad news for everyone else. We can imagine what at the A&E at Stoke would be like now if the strikes had gone ahead. This is student politics in the riskiest of public services and we can do without it.
Finding problems and reporting them is not easy and solving them is hard. The truth is we are turning the ship around and continuing to provide ever more funding to the NHS when demand is rising all the time. We cannot go back to the idea that no news is good news, that everything’s fine and simply shoot down any whistle blower that dares challenge the order of things.
It was cruel, it was unnecessary, it was lethal and it is worth noting Labour has never apologised to those patients, professionals and relatives who happened to be in their way. They never will because for Labour the NHS is about them. With the Conservatives patients see the real picture, warts and all, and we are delivering a NHS that’s about the people of this country first.
Jon Stanley is a junior doctor and a researcher at Edinburgh University.