Bold thinking on healthcare

Labour needs a healthcare offer that focuses as much on tackling the great public health challenges of the day as it does keeping accident and emergency units open, argues Joanne Harding

I went with a very open mind to Loughborough back in November as the Labour Party National Policy Forum was resurrected. What I will say though is this: that as an opposition councillor what I want and am desperately hoping for is that Labour will crack on with some credible policies. Polices that we can genuinely engage members and supporters with, but most importantly of all the electorate.

Some of the nicest bits of the weekend were catching up with my north-west NPF colleagues as we discussed how glad we were to be getting back to engaging members and shaping policy.

The weekend however was relatively low-key with not as many members of the shadow team around as maybe should have been. However, I accept we are at the start of a new chapter so I am willing to overlook this if this becomes a genuinely progressive programme of engagement and policy development. This is something I will be pushing for.

I am delighted this time to be selected to sit on the health policy commission, this is my area of passion and expertise, so I am really looking forward to some ‘health debate’!

Having sat in the policy workshop with Jonathan Ashworth on then Saturday afternoon it is clear there is a huge amount of affection and dedication to ‘save our NHS’. What I hope I made plain in this session is that I too feel just the same, but I no longer feel it is enough to chant empty slogans or sign petitions. I do not say this dismissively, I led a community campaign to ‘save our A&E’ at Trafford General Hospital and I have absolutely no regrets about being part of what was an incredible community campaign.

What I feel I have developed over the past seven years of being a councillor and sitting on health scrutiny is a degree of pragmatism and a broader overview of the health economy.

It is evidently clear that the NHS is facing incredible challenges with the largest aggregate deficit in its history and a reported £1.9bn funding gap in social care funding, which will absolutely have a significant impact on the health service.

Services are buckling under the strain and funding is just not keeping pace with demand. So, when making policy, one of the key things for me is in reality how can we balance this and try to reduce some of the demand. How do we really keep people well?

Can we be bold as a party and think about what our policy choices might be to really ensure the NHS remains sustainable?

Alcohol costs our NHS £3.5bn per year, it also has a significant impact on workforce and crime. Liver disease in the north-west is the number one cause of death for women.

NHS England report that £16bn is spent on direct costs of diabetes and other conditions related to being overweight. Can Labour please at least start the conversations about these issues – such as minimum unit pricing, possible sugar taxes/education programmes – with big business and get them playing their part in the nation’s health with a robust corporate social responsibility commitment?

Jeremy Corbyn did a great thing with the appointment of a shadow portfolio for mental health. I see our policy commission is now a much more generic health one. We must not lose all that fantastic work the commission delivered last year. Mental health must be a golden thread that runs through all of our policies.

So, I am looking forward, as a north-west NPF rep, to getting out there following our relaunch and really engaging with members and supporters to hear their views and capture their ideas.

However, I am making a plea to the Labour party – please, think bold.

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Joanne Harding is rep for the north-west on the National Policy Forum. She tweets @joanne13harding

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