Despite the best efforts of campaigners who have been sounding the alarm; Labour MPs who have continually voted the proposals down; and the Lords, who managed to secure some concessions from the Government, last night Conservative MPs voted to pass the Health and Care Bill into law.
I am extremely concerned that this Bill will do nothing to address the number of crises facing our NHS services.
Every week I hear from hundreds of constituents who are working tirelessly on the frontline of our NHS services, or families whose loved ones are unable to access healthcare, waiting months for urgent treatment. Over the past year, campaigners across our city have been speaking up about the numerous issues our NHS is facing.
But rather than listening to those on the front-line and bringing forward reforming legislation to address these problems, the Government’s Health and Care Bill will only intensify the crises facing services in Sheffield.
This Bill will do nothing to address the chronic staff shortages across our NHS – shortages which, as Sheffield’s midwives have highlighted, are forcing more people out of the NHS and risking patient safety. Instead, it will merely require the Health Secretary to report “at least every five years” on workforce needs. This means we could have to wait until 2027 before seeing the Government report on NHS work shortages – and likely even longer for steps to address it. Midwives in Sheffield cannot wait until 2027 to be told there are shortages in the sector – the shortages are being felt right now.
Instead of cleaning up the failed privatisation project, ending private tendering and returning power to local and public institutions, this Bill will intensify private companies’ role in our NHS. It will allow companies such as Virgin Care to sit on new “Integrated Care Boards” and make decisions about what healthcare people in Sheffield will or won’t receive, what services are kept open and which are shut, scaled back or ‘digitalised’.
Decision-making power will be transferred further away from those working in or relying on the services, whose experience makes them best placed to diagnose the problems and offer solutions.
Finally, rather than learning from the failure of dodgy test, track and trace and PPE contracts, which left hospital staff in Sheffield risking their lives and the lives of patients, the Government’s plans will open the NHS to yet more crony contracts. Integrated Care Boards will be able to grant contracts to private companies, potentially without proper scrutiny or consultation, and the Secretary of State for Health will have increased powers to do the same.
I know the people of Sheffield will continue to fight these reforms, for an NHS that is free at the point of use, properly funded and supports its staff, and I will rally behind these campaigners and front-line workers every step of the way.