THE NEWSDESK: Deliver on promise of quality health care
ASK people if they believe the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, and I can’t think of many people who would say no.
Its inception was the crowning glory of the Clement Attlee government.
Few of us now can remember the days when you were lucky to be in a local hospital scheme, and when seeing a GP had to be weighed against the cost of feeding your children.
Though should you need to be made aware of what a world without an NHS was like, watch Ken Loach’s film Spirit of ’45 and its harrowing interview with Caerphilly councillor Ray Davies about his mother’s death.
Despite the efforts of dedicated and skilled staff, many of us have had the experience of lengthy waits for treatment unless we pay hundreds or thousands of pounds privately for an initial specialist consultation.
Many of us have to weigh the cost of expensive dental treatment against our monthly wage.
After decades of successive governments playing politics with our NHS, there are already aspects of our healthcare which are, effectively, not free at the point of delivery.
At the root is money: the lack of it, or the way it has been directed in the system.
And I believe that is a key factor in why so many people are cynical about politics today.
There has, rightly, been a great deal of talk about the military covenant in this country – the promise we as a society make to those who risk their lives for it.
But shouldn’t there also be a citizen’s covenant? One which says that no matter which political hue is in power, there are certain inalienable rights we should have.
The continued right to free, prompt medical treatment, the right to social care when we get old without selling our homes, shouldn’t that be the lynchpin of any covenant?
Labour’s Andy Burnham believes so – he believes his party needs a big idea to fight the coming general election.
He believes that social care free at the point of delivery should be included in and run by the NHS.
In an interview with The Guardian he says: “My argument is we will never, ever get the standards of care we aspire to for our parents, grandparents... from a malnourished, minimum-wage, zero-hours social care system.”
It is a big and bold idea. And, of course, since devolution, Wales has its own say on the NHS here – would we follow suit?
The former health secretary says he now regrets allowing the private sector so far into the NHS under Labour.
“We had been building a policy that said it doesn’t matter who provides healthcare as long as it’s free at the point of delivery. But I’m saying it does matter.”
A politician who is prepared to acknowledge a mistake? Maybe that’s another big and bold idea.
Burnham had suggested the social care move under Gordon Brown, but of course there is a major rub.
How we pay for it. How hardpressed taxpayers would react after years of austerity.
Because we’ve had years of some politicians telling us we’re “all in it together” when it is clear some of us are far more in it than others.
Because while many of us would be prepared to pay more national insurance for a better NHS, we’d need cast-iron guarantees that is exactly where the money would be spent – that it would not be some short-term cash-generator fix for a hard-pressed government.
There is, of course, only a limited national pot. Though closing tax loopholes, actually pursuing corporations who should be paying more tax might increase it.
As might creating properly paid social care jobs, bringing more people into the tax-paying category, generating more revenue, giving people more disposable income to spend with local businesses.
So caring for those who need it properly, and at the same time doing something to help the economy which doesn’t involve the short-term laying of tarmac.
Burnham is spot on about one thing. He says voters may be sick of the Coalition, but Labour has yet to convince them it has the right stuff for government.
But having made this stand, Burnham now has to convince his own party leadership and then, if elected, go out and deliver.
There’s nothing worse than that post-election feeling that Johnny Rotten is standing before us, rattling his coins and shouting: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
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