At the time of writing, it is less than a week since 2018 began: I hope that New Year’s provided a lovely bookend to a festive holiday season for everyone in Peterborough.
I’m sure many would have loved politics to press the Pause button over Christmas; we weren’t that lucky. President Trump remains as unpredictable and unrestrained as ever. Brexit is still an ever-thickening tangle of thorny negotiations. However, my main concern is the present state of the NHS.
There is an acute shortage of beds, staff and resources. Editorials rage against the inability of government to plan. There is a grudging apology and a promise to do better. Spring comes and the headlines move on to the next item. We repeat the cycle next January.
Repetition in this instance has pernicious effects: the annual crisis is getting worse, but there is the danger of it becoming routine to the point of tedious.
Operations have been cancelled; care is suffering despite the tremendous efforts of frontline staff. The crisis is happening despite efforts to reduce demand, for example, by encouraging people to get flu jabs. Efficiencies have been squeezed out of the system. There is no more blood in the stone.
The truth is rather simple: as a nation, we are living longer, thanks to advances in medical science. The NHS is struggling to cope with this change. We can blame managers; no doubt, there is a layer of management that is expensive. We can blame the commissioning system: no doubt the semi-privatised health service is costly.
However, these easy targets cannot hide a fundamental truth: we’re just not spending enough on the health service.
According to the World Bank, in 2014, we spent 9.1 per cent of GDP on health. This is below the European Union average of 10 per cent; this is significantly below the average of France, a similarly sized country, of 11.5 per cent.
The Tories claim to have maintained health spending, however their plans simply have not kept pace with demography.
It is not a question of ability to pay: during the 2017 General Election, Theresa May told our nurses that there was “no magic money tree”.
Yet, billions are summoned up when tax cuts are required or new departments needed to cope with Brexit are needed.
Rather, it is a question of priorities and a matter of will.
This is a time to set goals and fix one’s resolve.
The NHS, the committed staff working in surgeries, clinics and hospitals throughout our city are at the top of my list: I resolve to do my best to represent them and their patients, and to work towards a January when an NHS crisis is no longer an annual ritual.