POLITICALLY SPEAKING: With Ed Balls

Ed Balls at the breast screening unit at Morley's Asda, with Coun Neil Dawson and Maxine Green.
Ed Balls at the breast screening unit at Morley's Asda, with Coun Neil Dawson and Maxine Green.
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Have your say

My mailbag has been full of people’s recent experiences of the NHS over the last few days.

Almost everyone who has written has stressed to me what a vital service our health service is for them and their family. One couple wrote to tell me about having to wait over two weeks for an appointment with their GP. Another local woman told me about her concerns that staff in care homes don’t have enough time to care for elderly people properly. 
I’ll always take up specific cases on behalf of local people who contact me. But unfortunately some of the cases I’m seeing are no longer unusual. Increasingly people I speak to in Morley and across the constituency tell me how worried they are about the NHS.
And it’s not just patients. NHS professionals who live or work locally are also in touch with me regularly to tell me about the impact the current health policy is having locally. One doctor told me recently how worried he was about the direction the NHS is going and the pressure staff are now operating under. “There is only so much ‘efficiency’ that can be achieved before serious cracks will appear,” he wrote. And a nurse working in a local hospital told me about the ‘dire state’ she thinks the NHS is now in.
The testimonies I’m hearing – from staff and patients – worry me greatly. Our NHS – our country’s greatest achievement – should be going forwards, not backwards. NHS patients and staff shouldn’t be feeling this way. Urgent action is needed to protect our health service and protect the needs of the patients who rely on it.
And yet – as local people are telling me – it is getting harder to see a GP. The number of nurses has been cut and waiting lists are on the rise. On top of that there is a looming crisis as NHS budgets are set to get tighter and tighter in the years ahead.
 So there are some difficult decisions to make. Should we allow the NHS to continue to go backwards, or accept that, alongside reforms, the health service needs more funding? I certainly do not want to duck this challenge. And so I’ve put forward two proposals to raise much needed investment for the NHS.The first – a mansion tax on houses worth more than £2 million – would be used for an NHS Time to Care Fund. The money raised would help to support an additional 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home care workers and 3,000 midwives. At the moment the average council tax payer in Morley is paying hundreds of times more in council tax in proportion to a billionaire buyer of a penthouse in central London. And that can’t be right. Those who can most afford to pay, should be asked to make a bigger contribution. The money raised from a Mansion Tax would be used to fund increased resources for our NHS which can be used for everyone. 
And for a chronic condition like cancer, on which great progress was made in the early noughties, waiting times for cancer tests are currently increasing. Nationally the number waiting for more than six weeks for key tests to diagnose cancer is up from 1,900 in May 2010 to over 10,600 in the summer of this year. 
So in order to get those waits down again, my second proposal is for a new levy on tobacco companies. This would enable us to introduce a one-week cancer test guarantee to improve early diagnosis and enable treatment to begin earlier when we know it is more effective and most lives could be saved.
Cancer services have been under real strain in recent years. We know over the last four years that £790m has been cut in real terms from cancer budgets. And with waiting times increasing too I think it’s vital urgent action is taken to get these NHS service back on track.
Because we all know that with cancer time will always be such a crucial factor. So it’s right to prioritise any additional resources where they can have the biggest impact.
What is clear from the people across our area is that we do need to find ways to increase resources in the health service. These are difficult decisions. But for the thousands of local people relying on local health services – in particular those who are ill themselves, or caring for a sick relative – ensuring our NHS better serves their needs is an absolute priority. The future of our NHS depends on it. Visit www.edballs.co.uk to show your support for these proposals.