Newly-appointed shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has criticised the government for “asking [NHS] staff to do more” but “paying them less”, claiming it is “punishing” staff for its own financial mismanagement of the service.
In her first speech since taking on the role last month, Ms Alexander noted nurses and doctors could expect real-terms pay cuts during the next four years, referring to the government’s announcement of a capped annual 1% public sector pay rise.
“Labour will not sign up to these plans to squeeze the NHS when those who work in the NHS say this would harm services”
She said the past five years under the coalition government had left the service “on its knees”, referring to a string of missed waiting time targets and figures on cancelled operations.
But this was not the fault of staff, who worked “tirelessly”, she told the Labour party conference in Brighton yesterday.
She reminded delegates that the Conservative government’s promise to provide the NHS with the £8bn it asked for by 2020 required £22bn efficiency savings by the NHS alongside it.
“But speak to people who work in the NHS and they will tell you that savings on this scale cannot be delivered without putting patient care at risk,” said Ms Alexander.
She predicted the efficiencies would lead to cuts to staff, pay reductions and rationing of treatments.
“Labour will not sign up to these plans to squeeze the NHS when those who work in the NHS say this would harm services,” she added.
However, she said, the NHS did need to change in some respects, including placing mental health at the centre of the services, “not the fringes”.
“In this parliament we must find a long-term solution to how we pay for older people’s care”
She called for “big changes” in the way whistleblowers are responded to, how complaints are handled, in care for older people, and to tackle the cycle linking poverty and poor health.
Ms Alexander also said previous governments had “failed to grasp the care crisis” developing across the country.
“In this parliament we must find a long-term solution to how we pay for older people’s care,” she said.
Ms Alexander promised to fight for the NHS, adding nothing was more important to the “resurgent” Labour party than the health service.
The MP for Lewisham East was handed the shadow health brief by new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn following his election in September.
It was formerly held by Andy Burnham, a party leadership candidate and now shadow home secretary.