The Eastleigh by-election presents an unrivalled opportunity to highlight to the people of Eastleigh and to the wider public that the political classes are turning their health service – like the railways, telecommunications and utilities – into another cash cow. There can only be one outcome from this privatisation-by-stealth of the NHS – greater health inequalities and reductions in efficiency, safety and quality of the health service.
As a recently retired local NHS doctor with significant political experience, I am uniquely placed to bring this looming threat to the electorate’s notice and to give them the choice to put people before profit.
Originally I was selected to represent the Green Party in the Eastleigh parliamentary constituency. However, for strategic reasons, the Greens have decided not to stand a candidate at this by-election. Faced with the prospect of allowing the coalition’s NHS privatisation agenda to go unchallenged for another two years, I accepted the National Health Action (NHA) party’s invitation to stand as their candidate.
I have over 30 years’ experience as a doctor – 20 of which I have served the NHS firstly as a GP and latterly as a consultant in public health, and 10 of which I served as a medical officer in the Royal Navy. I stood as the Green Party candidate for Portsmouth North in the 2010 General Election. I feel privileged to be in a position to take the fight to save the NHS.
Local and national challenges
The NHA is protesting against the Health and Social Care Act nationally, but I will also be looking at local examples of the way current NHS politics impact on patient care.
For example, cuts in staffing to meet QIPP challenge are resulting in poor clinical care on certain wards in acute hospitals serving Eastleigh residents, local people have told me, particularly for those who are more vulnerable because of old age or learning disability. NHS staff have approached me and told me that quality of care is being adversely affected because of declining staff morale and sickness absence in both acute hospital and community/mental health trusts.
Local residents have also complained that they are experiencing greater difficulty in getting their needs met by services that have been put out to AQP, such as wheelchairs and hearing aids. For example, one elderly patient crippled by polio said he had to pay for his own home oxygen privately now.
I last worked as a GP five years ago after a 16-year break. When I returned to the profession I noticed that GPs faced a much greater administrative burden, particularly in terms of all the information that had to be collected for QOF and additional processes such as Choose & Book. GPs also seem to do fewer procedures in the surgery now – such as cervical cancer screening, family planning, obstetric care, taking bloods, minor procedures.
There also seemed to be less continuity of care – patients seemed to be less inclined to stick with the same doctor for managing particular problems, and from my point of view there was less satisfaction from providing ‘whole family’ care, and fewer opportunities to see patients in their own homes. Because of the complex make-up of some families, fewer home visits prevented me from making important links between patients’ illnesses and their housing and social circumstances – and even between members of the same family, where individual patients didn’t share a family name.
The NHA’s campaign cuts to the core of what’s wrong with our political system. The system that allows a supposedly democratically elected government to impose profound changes – changes that nobody voted for – to something that has represented the essence of social solidarity since 1945.
Dr Iain MacLennan is the NHA’s candidate in Eastleigh, and a former GP.