Let’s keep the NHS the jewel in the crown of public services

Peterborough City Hospital
Peterborough City Hospital
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So at long last we have a by-election and Peterborough voters will be able to choose a new MP, writes SDP by-election candidate Patrick O’Flynn.

Everybody expects the establishment’s betrayal of Brexit to dominate – and as someone who has campaigned to get Britain out of the EU for many years, it will be a central focus of my Social Democratic Party campaign. But it shouldn’t be the only issue.

Because a good MP must have well thought-out policies across all the big issues that concern people. And today I want to highlight the issue of the NHS.

Recently I had the honour of being given a guided tour of Peterborough City Hospital by its leadership team – NHS trust chief executive Caroline Walker and chairman Rob Hughes.

The hospital was built using private funds from the PFI scheme brought in by the Tories and then expanded by Labour. PFI contracts created a big debt overhang for taxpayers and the establishment parties have serious questions to answer about that.

But there is no doubt it is a superb facility. Talking to Caroline and Rob, I was struck by their attention to detail in terms of delivering for patients and keeping pace with the ever-growing demands on services. They are already planning to move the admin department out of the main building in order to create more room for wards.

I have no hesitation in saying that Peterborough’s is the best hospital I have ever seen. As someone who has visited elderly relatives a lot, that is based on a reasonable sample size too. Caroline told me that extra funding received over the winter for the frail elderly had helped. But the health service should not be expected to live from hand to mouth.

My party has a policy of increasing the share of national income devoted to the NHS during every parliamentary term. I call the commitment our permanent funding guarantee and it can give NHS leaders the certainty they need to plan long-term.

Another message I received was that it would be helpful if all of us took more responsibility over our own health and fitness. Can each of us claim to be a wholehearted defender of the NHS if we make lifestyle choices likely to increase the burdens we place on it?

For instance, the cost of treating diabetes is huge and type two of the disease is related to obesity. I do my best to take exercise and not overindulge. But I have lapses. So if you see me at a junk food counter on the campaign trail in the next few weeks, feel free to remind me to try harder!

Fortunately the clamour from certain right-wing politicians for a private insurance healthcare system appears to have quietened for now. I will always defend our NHS against that. But as the invasion of politicos gets underway and the knocks begin on your door, please ask where they stand on the NHS.

Because it is the jewel in the crown of our public services. Let’s keep it that way for many generations to come.