Jeremy Hunt shuffles uncomfortably under the gaze of his fellow MPs as Jeremy Corbyn asks why he is piloting a pointless scheme to harm NHS patients while claiming to be eliminating almost-non-existent ‘health tourism’.
Theresa May consolidated her position as the UK’s most pathetic excuse for a prime minister yet, with a crushing defeat at the Dispatch Box under the questioning of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
(Wasn’t he supposed to be the inept one?)
Mr Corbyn made strong points and supported them with solid facts. Mrs May provided no answers and seemed utterly lost.
Mr Corbyn began: “The government’s sustainability and transformation plans for the National Health Service hide £22 billion of cuts from our service, according to research by the BMA. That risks ‘starving services of resources and patients of vital care’. That comes from Dr Mark Porter of the BMA. When he calls this process a mess, where is he wrong?”
Mrs May ventured this reply: “The National Health Service is indeed looking for savings within the NHS which will be reinvested in the NHS. It is this government which is providing not just the £8 billion which the NHS requested, but £10 billion of extra funding… and sustainability and transformation plans are being developed at local level, in the interests of local people, by local clinicians.”
“It’s very strange the prime minister should say that,” mused Mr Corbyn. “Because the Health Select Committee… says it is actually £4.5 billion, not £10 billion. There’s quite a big difference there.”
So she was being economical with the truth about the amount of money being put into the NHS – and, by the way, is that NHS England or the health service across the whole of the UK? Mrs May doesn’t seem clear about that and the UK Statistics Authority certainly seems confused.
Mr Corbyn continued: “Part of the reason for the strain on our National Health Service is that more than one million people are not receiving the social care that they need. As a result of this there has been an increase in emergency admissions for older patients. What action will the prime minister take to stop the neglect of older people, which ends up forcing them to take A&E admissions when they should be cared for at home or in a care home?”
“The government has introduced the Better Care Fund… the Social Care Precept for local authorities, and we’re encouraging the working together of the health service and local authorities, to deal with precisely the issues he’s raised on social care and bed-blocking,” Mrs May blustered, unaware of the hammer-blow that would shatter her protestations very shortly.
She blundered on: “But I will just say this to the Right Honourable gentleman: Er, we’ve introduced the Better Care Fund and the Social Care Precept. Let’s just look at what Labour did in their 13 years. They said they’d deal with social care in the 97 manifesto, introduced a Royal Commission in 1999, a Green Paper in 2005, the Wanless Review in 2006, said they’d sort it in the CSR of 2007, and another Green Paper in 2009. Thirteen years and they did nothing.”
Here comes the hammer (boldings mine): “As the prime minister well knows, health spending trebled under the last Labour government – and the levels of satisfaction with the National Health Service were at their highest ever in 2010. This government’s choice was to cut social care by £4.6 billion in the last Parliament, at the same time as they found the space, shall we say, to cut billions in corporate taxation bills. That means it’s affecting patients leaving hospital as well. In the last four years, the number of patients unable to be transferred from hospital due to the lack of adequate social care has increased by one-third.”
So it doesn’t matter what Theresa May says her government has introduced; the service it provides is much, much worse than that offered under the last Labour government. That is unquestionable.
Mr Corbyn pressed on: “Will the prime minister ensure her government guarantees all of our elderly people the dignity they deserve?”
“I recognise the importance of caring for elderly people and providing them with the dignity they deserve,” said the prime minister, immediately prior to evading the question completely, going back over her previous assertion and changing the subject (which, as we all know, is a false argument).
“He says this government has done nothing on social care. I repeat, this government has introduced the Social Care Precept, that is being used by my local authorities and by his local authority, and we’ve also introduced the Better Care Fund.” That’s the recapitulation of what she had already said.
Let’s look at that Social Care Precept. It allows local authorities to increase council tax by up to two per cent in order to fund adult social care, meaning that this service has now become a postcode lottery.
Oh, and the Social Care Precept was announced at the same time the Conservative Government said the local government central grant is to be cut by more than half, from £11.5bn in 2015/16 to £5.4bn in 2019/20, a drop of 56 per cent. Meanwhile, councils were expected to increase self-financed expenditure (from revenue and business rates) by 13.1 per cent over the same period, making council services another postcode lottery.
Was it wise of Theresa May to draw attention to this monumental increase in unfairness across the UK?
The Better Care Fund is a pooled budget, initially £5.3 billion, announced in the June 2013 Spending Round and intended to save £1 billion by keeping patients out of hospital. As the number of patients who could not be transferred from hospital due to inadequate social care has increased by one-third in the last four years, it is clear that the Better Care Fund has failed.
In fact, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Healthcare Financial Managers Association surveyed the plans for saving money through integration financed by the BCF in December 2015 and concluded that 80 per cent were likely to fail and that many were hampering progress, “giving integration a bad name”.
Mrs May continued: “But if he talks about support for elderly people I would remind him: Which government is it that has put the triple-lock in place for pensioners, that ensured the largest increase in pensions for elderly people?” And that’s the change-of-subject. Mr Corbyn was not discussing increases in pensions for senior citizens who may be perfectly healthy.
Our verdict can only be that, even though Mr Corbyn didn’t actually say the Conservatives have done “nothing” on social care, the result of their efforts is in fact worse. His response – “The precept is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s necessary for social care” – is mild, in that context.
Moving on to specifics, Mr Corbyn said: “I’m sure the whole House will have been appalled by the revelations in the BBC Panorama this week, showing older people systematically mistreated. The Care Quality Commission’s assessment is that care homes run by the Morleigh Group require improvement and has issued warning notices. The commission goes on to say that the owner has allowed services to deteriorate further, and has ‘utterly neglected the duty of care to the residents of these homes’. What action is her government going to take to protect the residents of those homes?”
Look at this stuttered, barely-intelligible response:
“The- the- Right Honourable gentleman mentioned-raises the issue of the quality of care that is provided in homes and the way that elderly people are treated. I’m sure everybody is appalled when we see examples of poor and uh, uh terrible treatment that is given to elderly and vulnerable people in care homes.
“What we do about it is ensure that we have the CQC which is able to step in, which takes action, which has powers to make sure that nobody-nobody in the chain of responsibility is immune from legal accountability. But we know that there’s more that can be done, and that’s why the CQC is looking into ways in which it can improve its processes, increase its efficiency.
“The, er, my-my honourable friend Minister for Community Health and Care is going to be writing to the CQC shortly, to look at how we can improve, to see what they do. It’s the CQC that deals with these issues. Is there more we can do? Yes, and we’re doing it.”
In other words, her government is taking no action at all.
Oh, and the CQC? It deliberately suppressed an internal review that meant it was found unfit for purpose in 2013. Are we sure we want to trust this organisation now?
“Yesterday, the government proposed that patients may have to show passports or other ID to access non-emergency healthcare,” said Mr Corbyn. “Has the government considered the impact of this on elderly people?
“The last census showed that nine-and-a-half million people in this country don’t have passports. Rather than distracting people with divisive and impractical policies, could the prime minister provide the NHS and social care with the money that it needs, to care for the people who need the support?”
Mrs May’s response was very silly indeed: “Over the course of this Parliament, the government will be spending half a trillion pounds on the National Health Service.”
And it is clearly not enough! How much goes into the pockets of private health bosses?
“The Right Honourable gentleman asks about a process to ensure that people who are receiving NHS treatment are entitled to receive NHS treatment. For many years there has been a concern about health tourism, about people turning up in the UK, accessing health services, and not paying for them.”
No, there hasn’t!
The only people talking about health tourism are Conservative MPs or Tory government spokespeople – and that includes the right-wing media like the Daily Heil and the Torygraph. You’ll hear people talking about it but, when pressed, they’ll say they heard about it through these sources and haven’t actually witnessed any themselves.
In real terms, there isn’t any health tourism. But if people are being asked to produce passports when nearly one-sixth of the UK’s own citizens don’t have them, you can see how it would ease pressure on the NHS.
The only problem is, the health of the nation would fall off a cliff.
“We want to make sure that those who are entitled to use those services are indeed able to see those, free at the point of delivery, but that we deal with health tourism and those who should be paying for the use of our health service,” dissembled Mrs May. Of course she doesn’t want to see anything of the sort.
She wants poor people to go away and stop asking for the service their taxes support.
But don’t just accept This Writer’s comments. Mr Corbyn was able to deliver his second series of hammer blows in response to Mrs May’s words (boldings mine): “Sir Simon Stevens told us… that the next three years are going to be the toughest ever for NHS funding and that 2018 would see health spending per person cut for the first time ever in this country.”
So Mrs May’s comment about the amount being spent is worth nothing.
“The NAO [National Audit Office] reported that the cost of health tourism is over 100 times less than the £22 billion in cuts that the NHS is facing from this government.”
So there is no reason to make a fuss about it – unless it is to hide the enormity of cuts to the health service.
“The reality is… under this government, there are 6,000 fewer mental health nurses. There are a record 3.9 million people on NHS waiting lists. All of us who visit A&E departments know the stress that staff are under and that the waiting time is getting longer and longer – and that there are one million people, in this country, not receiving the social care that they need.
“So instead of looking for excuses and scapegoats, shouldn’t the prime minister be ensuring that health and social care is properly resourced and properly funded to take away the stress and fear that people face in old age over social care and the stress that is placed on our very hard-working NHS and social care staff?”
Mrs May could do nothing other than reiterate her discredited claims about the amounts her government is spending.
But she added: “We can only afford to pay for the National Health Service and for social care if we have a strong economy, creating wealth.”
Yes indeed. What a shame her party – the Conservatives – comprehensively trashed the UK’s economy in order to hurt the poor.
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