The NHS is a valuable service for us all, and an efficient provider of excellent health services. The UK is rightly proud of this national institution. I would hope no political party would seek to damage the NHS. However, that doesn’t mean it should never change.
When the NHS began in 1948, medicine was very different. Treatments we take for granted like scans, hip and knee replacements and many childhood vaccines didn’t exist. More people died from injuries at work or exposure to smog and other pollution. The NHS has rightly changed as our needs and medical technology change, but not all changes have been good.
For me, one of the most worrying was the move to ‘Trust status’ for both hospitals and other NHS services. Although still publicly funded, this became a way to expect parts of the NHS to stand – and fall – alone.
Derby has a bright new hospital, run by an NHS Trust. The hospital was built, and is owned, though by a private business under a ‘Private Finance Initiative’ (PFI) set up by Labour. Over its lifetime, its cost will be paid many times over in rent and service charges, lining shareholders’ pockets with NHS money that could have gone to treat patients.
Labour gave schools similar treatment. They continued Conservative work to make schools ‘standalone’ and new buildings were provided using this same PFI process. This means many schools also rent their new buildings, draining money away from teaching and making changes to buildings complex and expensive.
We now have Academies, Foundation Schools, University Technical Colleges and Free Schools, in buildings owned by the school, the council or private shareholders. They have different rules and different ways of funding them, but does this help pupils?
A recent report from an all-party committee of MPs said ‘No’.
Liberal Democrats are fighting the privatisation of what should be public. The recent announcement of funding for new school buildings, including Bemrose and Cavendish Close Infant School in Derby, was real money – not permission to borrow. Liberal Democrats believe that wherever possible we should pay for what we want up front, not build up debt for the future, unless we can save money overall by investing now to cut costs or increase income.
Even with only one in ten MPs, after 4½ years of Lib Dems in Government it is possible to see Lib Dem priorities in action. Lib Dem influence in government has slowed down NHS privatisation compared to the previous four years under Labour. And in spite of Conservative wishes, Lib Dems have given people on low incomes tax cuts, while more tax is being taken from the wealthiest in society than under Labour.
Like many people, I have children. I don’t want to make them pay off our debts for all their lives, but I do want them to live in a fair society with good public services supported by a strong economy providing opportunities for everyone.
In government, Lib Dems are helping to balance the country’s books while still investing for the future. In government again, Lib Dems will borrow less than Labour and cut less that the Conservatives, helping to achieve that vision for all.