By Rosie Duffield
In 1976, Barbara Castle, then the Secretary of State for Health, said in a debate in the House of Commons that ‘intrinsically, the National Health Service is a church. It is the nearest thing to the embodiment of the Good Samaritan that we have in any of our public policy’. This is exactly why the Health Service is our national treasure. It deals with over one million people every 36 hours and in 2016/7, over 620,000 babies were born in NHS hospitals.
Yet, over the last nine years, it has been under threat by successive governments hell-bent on cutting it to the bone. Across the country, we have seen junior doctors walk out on strike, 58% of NHS staff reporting that they undertake unpaid overtime each week and the imposition of the Sustainability and Transformation partnerships in an attempt at backdoor privatisation. In Canterbury alone, we have seen the closure and downgrading of key wards and services, including the maternity ward that so many of my loved ones have benefitted from over the years.
As they have been across the country, service levels in East Kent have been reduced, yet in Canterbury there is the very real option for this to change. Quinn developers have offered to build the shell of a hospital, which would extend and improve the current Kent and Canterbury (K&C).Though this proposal has attracted criticism, we cannot miss out on an opportunity which offers the potential to return key services to NHS users across the district. The proposal which is still in its early days, will improve the infrastructure, which, as it stands, is not fit for purpose.
However, for this to be successful, we need to seek assurances from NHS England that the new hospital will be fully serviced, with all of the appropriate wards. A hospital without its wards and services is like a house without its roofs and walls. I hope NHS England will commit the necessary investment so that the lives of residents across East Kent are rapidly improved.
In December, 2017, it took an average of 54 minutes for an ambulance to reach CT5 postcodes, with the longest wait being 1 hour 49 minutes. Yet, the average car journey time from Canterbury to Whitstable is just 20 minutes. Ambulances are coming from further afield precisely because of the downgrading of our K&C hospital’s A&E ward. By choosing to cut our health service, this government has prioritised cost cutting over life saving. Time and time again, I hear horror stories from constituents about the conditions of our hospitals, but it is the staff that bear the brunt of this criticism. It was not nurses that voted through the Health and Social Care Act 2012 nor was it doctors that misled the public on health reforms.
Before I was elected, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to invest in our NHS, to give patients the modern, well-resourced services they need for the 21st century. I want to see the revival of that health system that is true to Aneurin Bevan’s vision; a health system that has been the envy of the world. I believe that the development of the Kent and Canterbury is the first step in achieving this for residents of East Kent.
It goes without saying that hospitals across the country need to improve. In 2017, our health trust exited special measures, which was a welcome step in improving the management of hospitals. Yet, our hospitals are still not seeing the enhancements we need. For a health service which supports everyone, we need to see the kind of upgrading that we could see in Canterbury. That is why, alongside supporting the proposals for improvement of the K&C, I will campaign for fully funded hospitals across Kent. Under the next Labour government, we will see the kind of investment our ailing health service so desperately needs. As I said in my maiden speech in 2017, the NHS is the country’s sickest patient and this is sadly remains as true today as it was then.
In the short term, if the Canterbury hospital is to be one of the only fully serviced hospitals in the district, there needs to be accessible and affordable transport across East Kent. The hospital must deliver people for the people of Cliftonville just as much as it will for the people of Canterbury. Kent County Council must work with Canterbury City Council and the East Kent University Hospital Trust to ensure that there is the kind of joined up thinking necessary for the delivery of services. This is also why NHS England should properly invest in care in the community, meaning that people from Tenterden to Tankerton receive the support they both need and deserve.
My friend and colleague Jon Ashworth, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, has said ‘If it was possible from the rubble, the debris, the austerity of the 1940s to build a National Health Service covering every man, woman and child free at the point of use then it is possible 70 years later tofund our NHS properly and provide the quality of care people deserve.’ By campaigning for the development of a new hospital in Canterbury, as well as the funding and investment so needed in other hospitals in East Kent, we will be fighting for just that.