Almost everybody has – or is close to someone who has – had a life-changing experience with our NHS. The NHS saved my life, twice. It has also been there for my family when they have needed it, as I’m sure it has been for yours. Therefore it is immensely sad that rather than being in a state of celebration, we spend this landmark year anxious over the future of our health service.
We value the NHS so much because everyone will be treated free at the point of use irrespective of who you are, your income or condition. It’s fair and classless. When the great liberal-thinker William Beveridge designed the NHS, this was at its heart. He believed that disease was one of the great societal evils to be defeated and today, the NHS stands as a monument to social justice, equality and decency.
Since its inception, there has been constant questioning about the role of the private sector, such as GP practices, in the NHS. The previous Labour government opened the door to private firms to win contracts for some services, and the Conservative government continues this trend.
The Lib Dems are fighting to maintain the NHS free at the point of use, but also to facilitate greater efficiency, better patient-orientation and secure funding. We need a balanced system that works, which doesn’t allow private operators to cherry-pick profitable sectors and leave the taxpayer with higher burdens when in fact overall, NHS financial muscle is enormous.
Our plan is simple:
• We would put a penny on income tax to give the NHS the emergency cash injection it needs.
• We would ring-fence £1 billion to transform our mental health services, providing extra-resources for access to talking therapies, and ensuring that waiting times for mental health match those for physical health. This could make a huge difference for young people alone in Bristol.
• We would bring the NHS and social care into one seamless service and put a cap on the amount elderly people have to pay for social care services.
· Technology is making amazing contributions and we would seek to sustain the public benefit from research progress, but we must not downgrade the individual care and support that is at the heart of our nurturing service.
It is also time to think long-term about how we fund services in the future. We believe in reforming national insurance schemes into a dedicated NHS tax, so you can see where your money goes. This will give us the mechanism to ensure that our services are well-funded and in good shape for the challenges ahead.
But we need to be honest. We cannot afford to invest in our services if our economy continues to be damaged by Brexit. There is no Brexit dividend, and Brexit will seriously harm our NHS. Labour isn’t taking this challenge seriously – Jeremy Corbyn talks much and often about the NHS, but he is not taking the stand against a hard, destructive Brexit that would close down our ability to give it the investment it needs.
If we truly value our NHS then we will have to fight to sustain it. The Liberal Democrats embrace that challenge and don’t shy from the harsh realities. For the average person, it would cost just a cup of coffee a week to give our NHS the money it so badly needs now, and I believe that’s a price worth paying.
Anthony Negus is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Cotham.