Barnsley Chronicle Column: We must defend our NHS

Last week I hosted a fundraising event with Sir Gary Verity (who brought the Tour de France to Yorkshire) as the guest speaker in aid of the Barnsley Hospital’s Tiny Hearts Appeal, raising just over £6,000 towards the £1 million needed to support the hospital’s relocation and development of a brand new Neonatal unit.

It was great to have the opportunity to make a contribution to this worthy cause, aiming to improve the facilities for babies needing special care in Barnsley. Yet it was also a reminder that hospital trusts are increasingly reliant on their fundraising efforts to fill the alarming shortfall in their resources.

Last Saturday, many people took to the streets in Barnsley town centre to protest against cuts to our National Health Service.

They rightly highlighted the urgent need to defend our most cherished national institution after seven years of Government neglect and underinvestment have pushed our health services to the brink.

Every time I visit our local hospital and medical centres, I am reminded how incredibly lucky we are in this country to have a world class National Health Service looking after us and our loved ones when we most need it. But increasingly I also see the immense pressure that staff are working under and listen to their very serious concerns about the future of health and social care in the UK.

It is shocking that last winters’ chaotic scenes of patients waiting for hours for treatment in Accident and Emergency departments, dubbed by the Red Cross as a ‘humanitarian crisis’, did not prompt the Government to review their management of the health service.

As the cold weather begins to take hold, it seems inevitable that there will be another winter crisis this year. In fact, in September NHS Providers warned the Government that the crisis could be even worse this year as shortages of staff and beds, pressures of the flu season, cuts to social care and the increasing incidence of cyber-attacks threaten the ability of hospitals to ensure patient safety during the winter months.

In the current climate of underfunding and overstretched resources, it is clear that it is the extraordinarily dedicated people who work in the NHS who are holding it together.

We owe our doctors, nurses and all who serve in our NHS an enormous debt of gratitude. But we also owe it to them to take urgent action to make sure that they do not have to continue to shoulder the burden that years of Government mismanagement has placed upon them.

The Government must take urgent action to recognise and address the serious challenges facing our NHS if we are to safeguard this institution for future generations.

Instead of encouraging NHS trusts to sell off buildings to raise capital funds, they need to draw together a sustainable funding package for health and social care, with an appropriate pay settlement for staff, to ensure our health service remains a world-class service in years to come.

The NHS is one of our nation’s greatest achievements and I will always fight to defend it.

In 1948 Nye Bevan asserted that the “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it." Now more than ever before, we must be those people.

This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 3 November 2017.

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