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Seeing Red: Fighting for our NHS

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on January 14 2019.

While Brexit may be a headline grabber and Court proceedings over election expenses may be a side show, real concerns over the health and wellbeing of Thanet’s population never go away. At this moment we need all the might we can muster to fight for our threatened health services.

Our NHS is as vital as it is special

Prime Minister Theresa May and NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens finally launched their much-trailed 10-year NHS plan recently. This has caused much consternation. A very respected NHS commentator  and former GP, Dr. Kailash Chand, says: “The 10-year NHS plan is in reality a policy statement to solve a political – not practical – problem. As I have argued before, the total £20.5 billion funding will barely make up for eight years of austerity that have crippled the NHS and social care and undermined public health. This extra cash is too little to prevent patients having to wait even longer for both GP and hospital care. NHS spending growth is set to be at an all-time low. The risks of longer waiting times, the clogging up of primary care services, cancelled operations, instability in primary and secondary care, and sinking staff morale will continue. The gap between policy rhetoric and supply has never been starker.”

Labour Shadow Health Minister Jonathon Ashworth MP has stated that the Tories are now actually cutting NHS settlement by £2 billion.

The NHS is vital to us all. From the cradle to the grave, we all rely on our NHS for good health, treatment when ill, and sometimes life saving and life enhancing procedures. We have also come along way in recent years recognising that physical and mental health are equally important. The NHS provides treatment in both areas.

Our NHS is rated as the best in the world and has been funded by us all, including our parents, grandparents and in some cases our great grandparents. Almost everyone of working age has made a financial contribution to the NHS over the last 70 years. It is ‘ours’, it belongs to us all as our jointly owned asset.

The devil as always is in the detail 

I think it’s time for some plain talking about the NHS. Undoubtedly there are really significant challenges. As a society we are living longer and using NHS services more, especially as we age. It’s also true that medical advances, the type we could only dream about 20 years ago, are expensive to implement. It’s also blindingly obvious that early prevention is better (and much more cost effective) than later treatment. It makes no clinical or economic sense not to fully adopt prevention, promote greater health literacy, and to ensure treatment is provided at the earliest opportunity. In the 5th richest nation in the world, we appear to be doing the opposite. At a huge cost to the general population.

Stroke unit decision

Take for instance the current discussion about where to site the HASU, the Hyper Acute Stroke Unit. The current proposal is to close the stroke unit in Margate’s QEQM Hospital and to open a HASU at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

A HASU is the right clinical decision. Specialist treatment for strokes, leading to improved outcomes is what we want. However it is completely wrong to provide this utterly vital service so far away. It also flies in the face of medical evidence. Research I have been shown by health service professionals suggests individuals should receive treatment at a HASU within 20 minutes. This crucial timing is referred to as ‘door to needle’ time. The NHS is trying to tell us that it’s up to 120 minutes.

In December 2017, at a public meeting I organised about the NHS with the local commissions, I forced our local MP, Craig Mackinlay to admit that he agreed that the stroke service should be moved to Ashford. Since then he has changed his mind. Has he woken up to Thanet’s actual health needs or is he thinking of votes during the next general election? That may be closer than some think.

As the next most senior politician representing Ramsgate, I have written to Craig Mackinlay twice in recent weeks requesting him to join with me in calling for a halt to the decision to move our stroke unit. I have had no response.

So I use this column to say once again – Craig, please let’s work together to stop this travesty happening!

This article was first published on 14th January 2019 in The Isle of Thanet News.