A couple of Labour councillors criticised us Lib Dems for not supporting a demonstration yesterday in favour of the NHS. It’s a pity that they weren’t listening in the so-called debate we had on the issue on Wednesday in the council chamber. We made it clear then that demonstrations would not solve the deep rooted problems in the NHS. We asked Labour and the Greens to join all-Party efforts to look at the culture of the NHS and the ways that we raise money for it. That request was turned down. Raising banners and placards is so much easier than raising ideas.
Protests on the street are so much easier than the amount of effort that is required to deal with the issues facing the NHS. Interestingly Simon Stevens, the NHS Chief Executive, recently said that if more money were available he wouldn’t put into the NHS but into social care. This advice is spot on. The fact is that a lot of money gets wasted in the NHS but not by the people who run it or work in it but by politicians and the general public. Let’s just look a few fact s about the NHS:
- 40,000 young people every year are needing to go to dental hospitals for multiple extractions which are too complex to be done in a dentist’s surgery. 99% of these are avoidable and they cost more than £35,000,000 a year.
- Drugs are our second highest NHS cost. 40% of the drugs issued are not sued. This represents a waste every year of £8 billion.
- Obesity which is almost wholly avoidable costs us £5.1 billion every year.
- 30% of our hospital beds are occupied by people who do not need any further medical assistance but cannot be discharged.
- 25% of hospital beds are occupied by people with problems relating to diabetes. Experts say at least half of this usage is avoidable if people ate, drank and exercised properly.
Huge sums of money then are spent on things that it should not be spent on. How will a demonstration change all that – it won’t change things at all! Yes we need more money and we need it now but more money will not, of itself, deal with the types of problems I draw attention to above.
I am particularly appalled that Labour locally thinks that demonstrating is the way forward because they had the chance to do something about these issues locally. In Greater Manchester in May they will be electing a Mayor who actually controls the £4.5 billion health budget in the area. They are already doing marvellous things through their combined authority in kinking up services in a much better way for their residents. They secured more than £400 million over 5 years to fund the transformation that is required to change the way services operate and to deal with the types of issues given above.
In Liverpool no such request was made. Labour thought that it was too difficult and didn’t want to take the blame for potential cuts. But the same Party 30 miles away stopped posturing and got on with doing things to change the NHS for the better. In Liverpool Labour rejected the Sustainable Transformation Plan. In Manchester they drew it up.
That’s why when the Mayor writes to Labour Council Leaders asking them to join a national demonstration alongside the Greens, UKIP, Lib Dems and Tories against the plans of the Tory Government he will get little response outside the Greater Liverpool area. In other areas politicians are getting on with the job – here they shy away from the task.
So what do I think or demonstrations? Do they serve any useful point?
Over almost 50 years in politics I have been on both sides of demonstrations. I was ‘bound over to keep the peace’ by participating in the ‘Stop the 70s Tour’ demonstrations against apartheid in S Africa. That ensured that attention was turned to an issue that was not much thought about at the time and gave tremendous encouragement to black and coloured South Africans.
I have got through 35,000 people at a demonstration outside the Town Hall when Militant were in full flow. I ignored those protests but I was talking directly to the communities I represented where the majority did not support what was being demanded of us.
I marched through London on a day when 750,000 were there and the march took 2 hours to pass any point and when another 500,000 people demonstrated in every major city and tow in the Country. But the Labour Party supported by the Tories still took us into an illegal and unjustifiable war in Iraq the consequences of which we still face today.
So will 500 people outside the Royal yesterday really have achieved anything? No not really.
- They didn’t need to draw attention to the NHS problems because there isn’t a sentient person in England who does not already know about them.
- Will it have changed the way the Tory Government is approaching the NHS difficulties. No. They are not avid readers of the ECHO and will be blissfully unaware of the demo at all.
- Will it have changed the culture within the NHS which is not always directing money into the areas like public health where the long-term health and cash savings can be made? No sometimes the gestures can ensure the needs are ignored by suggesting that there are simple answers to complex problems.
- Will, it change the culture of individuals to encourage us all to eat, drink and exercise properly. Individual responsibility wasn’t even mentioned.
So Labour can protest on. In the meantime Norman Lamb and the Lib Dems are forging a partnership with Labour and Tory MPs and Peers and councillors to look afresh at the funding of the NHS and the culture of the NHS. I am doing my best to assist with this process as are councillors nationally in a variety of ways.
If Labour really loved the NHS and did not see it as a sticking plaster to cover up their own inadequacies they would be asking to take the NHS over locally; they would be trying to find solutions locally and nationally to these complex cultural issues.
Gesture politics like yesterday are very rewarding to the individual but do nothing to change things.