The first of my three articles on the NHS. This article gives an overview of the challenges facing the NHS nationally and at the Colchester Hospital, as well as detailing my work so far supporting both.
The NHS is the area’s biggest employer. It is also the issue that always becomes a focus of debate, whatever government is in power. There are few other public services which draw a similar strength of feeling and passion from the public. This is not just because of the dedication and selflessness of our doctors and nurses. The NHS as a free at point of use health service is a fundamental part of British society and our political system.
I will try to explain:
- The national NHS challenge;
- The difficulties faced by the NHS in Colchester and North Essex;
- My involvement supporting the various local arms of the NHS; and
- How I will continue to support the NHS in this Parliament.
Given the scope and scale of discussion on the NHS in Harwich and North Essex alone, I am splitting information on my campaigns in relation to the NHS into 3 parts, first focussing on the national picture and Colchester Hospital, second on GP services and mental healthcare, and finally on the NHS in Harwich and the Tendring District.
The NHS nationally
The NHS, like all health systems around the world, faces huge challenges. The Labour chant that the Conservatives are ‘privatising the NHS’, is misleading and, of course, completely wrong. This is also the case with Labour’s claims that throwing money at the problems will somehow magically solve things. Labour built the Colchester Primary Care Centre and the Fryatt Hospital in Harwich using the expensive, wasteful and inflexible “private finance initiative”. Today’s NHS is left paying extortionate rents on unsuitable buildings on very inflexible terms. The operating theatres built in Harwich have never been used! Much of the clinical space at the Primary Cares centre is being used for office space (some of the most expensive in Colchester!) Labour threw money at the NHS, and failed to solve its problems. Labour left office in 2010, leaving with a letter for the incoming government which said “…there’s no money left” and an NHS still struggling with unprecedented pressures and issues of mismanagement.
The problems in the NHS are far more complex than simply needing more money. The problem is not because of the use of private providers. They are contracted to provide NHS services free to patients. Critics often forget that GP practices themselves are actually “private providers”, contracted by the Government through the NHS, and these make up one of the front line of the NHS.
So what are the real problems? The NHS in Colchester, from the decision makers, to the GP practices, the hospitals to mental healthcare providers, have all faced unique challenges over the past decade.
Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, or CHUFT was placed under special measures in 2013 and has now been put into a long-term partnership with the Ipswich Hospital Trust. There is a shortage of effective leadership in the NHS, so such mergers are necessary.
Have no doubt, that the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are absolutely not to blame for the difficulties at the Trust. The standards of care provided are mostly exceptional. I have worked with the hospital’s new management team to identify the cultural issues in the Trust management team which have become ingrained throughout the hospital structure as a result of years of changing leadership and an unwillingness from the top to listen to the views and concerns of the staff. I have no doubt that, moving forward under new leadership and with the absolute support of the local MPs, the hospital has the best chance to emerge from this difficult period as an example of how well an NHS Trust can operate.
The Government is supporting CHUFT as it overcomes both long and short term difficulties. For instance, the recent pressures on A&E services were discussed publically over the winter period. I worked closely with other MPs in the last parliament, Will Quince (Conservative MP for Colchester) and Priti Patel (Conservative MP for Witham). We all helped secure an additional £1 million for Colchester Hospital, specifically to support the A&E department.
This is a short-term success, which is a welcome win for the area, but we need to change the way A&E is used to help ease the growing pressures on the service. I have submitted proposals to the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the NHS body responsible for GP services. In these proposals, I have suggested the Walk-In Centre, which sits right next to the hospital, be used to triage patients in conjunction with A&E, so that people going in for issues which clearly are not emergencies can be separated and treated at the GP practice. This will free up the A&E staff so that real emergencies can be dealt with more quickly, which, in turn, will allow ambulances held up at the door to get back out on the road to real emergencies.
I have dedicated a large amount of my time over the last two parliaments to these issues, and I will continue to do so in this Parliament. This is fascinating work, and vital - offering the Trust every support in fixing these problems, so that local people have a local NHS service they can rely on, in which staff are not held up and demoralised by unnecessary bureaucracy and poor management.