June 15, 2011

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The Prime Minister's announcement about the NHS reforms may have raised as many questions as it answered.

The government is pushing legislation through parliament called the Health and Social Care Bill. It gives GPs the right to manage services but many fear that this will in practice mean that private companies will be brought in to run services. The government announced a pause and the Prime Minister, David Cameron said he was listening to patients and doctors. 

The reforms will cost £2 billion and that is money that won't be available for the care of patients. Many people have approached me about cuts in staff, bed closures in hospital, cancelled appointments and increased charges for care. This is despite government claims that they have increased the amount of money going into the NHS. 

The Prime Minister said before the election that there would be no more top-down re-organisations of the NHS. The evidence of the bill is that the NHS faces its biggest top-down re-organisation ever. 

I mentioned the pause in the changes. During that pause the NHS was instructed to carry on with the changes. It seems that whatever listening the government did during the pause in the  NHS re-organisation, it is not going to change its plans. So far we are seeing patients having to pay and seeing delays and charges. 

Longer term, the government plans suggest privatisation. It is worrying that American health care companies are among the most prominent offering to run services. Most GPs want to care for their patients rather than spending all their time managing services. That means they will have to pay health care companies to run services. 

When senior managers are visiting the United States to learn about health care there, it is no surprise that people think the government wants to introduce an American style health care system here. In America, many people on lower and middle incomes cannot afford decent health care. That is what used to happen in this country before the NHS was created. I will fight any attempts to destroy the NHS and force families to pay for their health care based on what they can afford.

I was disturbed to hear that patients who are sent to hospital by their GPs have to pay for a taxi to return home. When that includes elderly patients on a state pension it is very worrying. This is an issue, which I shall be raising with the hospitals. It sounds like the start of charging patients to me. 

I also met a constituent who has had to pay big increases in charges for her care at home. She told me that she can only just afford the increases. My question to the Prime Minister is whether he really plans to charge people for their health care and what will happen to those people who can’t afford to pay. It sounds like health is already being privatised on the quiet.

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The closure of the Crosby coastguard station was again a subject, which I raised in Parliament. This time, my colleague, Katy Clark had a debate on the future of Greenock coastguard station, which like Crosby is under threat as a result of government plans to cut the cost of the service. 

 

Greenock coastguard serves the Clyde, like the Mersey a very busy and expanding port. As with the Mersey, the Clyde has many smaller vessels who don’t have lots of technology and so won't be able to take advantage of the  new coastguard system which will be run through two centres, one in Southampton and one in Aberdeen. These will probably work for big ships but be hopeless for fishing boats or pleasure craft. These smaller boats rely on the local knowledge and expertise of local coastguards who know the area and know the rescue services and who to call to get help as fast as possible. 

 

These are points, which my colleagues and I have repeatedly raised with ministers. It seems that Crosby is set to close unless there is a major u-turn by the government. That’s why I have arranged a further debate in parliament to discuss the impact of the cuts on all the emergency services. The reason for this debate is to look at what the effect of the cuts will be on the police, fire service and ambulance service. 

 

If Crosby coastguard closes who will carry out the work they currently do? Who will patrol the beaches and watch the coastline? 

 

The police face the loss of 800 officers across Merseyside and a further 600 community support officers. With such cuts, my very real fear is that public safety will suffer around the coast. If the police put extra officers on duty around the coast, who will keep the community safe elsewhere?

 

The impact of the closure of the coastguard really has not been considered. 

 

You can’t put a price on safety but, the government appears not to have thought through the impact of the coastguard closure just as they haven’t considered the impact of the NHS changes. That’s why I shall continue to pursue both these issues and many others in Parliament.