I am passionately committed to preserving our national health service as a universal service that is free at the point of delivery.
Our perceptions of the current state of our NHS will be shaped by our individual interactions with it. I have a two year old daughter and (as with most parents) have had cause to rely on GPs, out-of hours care and (mercifully only once) A&E. On each occasion we have had first-class, prompt care and so my experience has been that in Oxfordshire we have a service to be proud of.
My wife works for the NHS in Oxfordshire and so I am also fortunate to be given some insights into the impact of funding challenges on the ground. These insights, along with issues raised with me as a Town Councillor allow me a slightly broader perspective on the difficulties caused by cuts and realignment of services.
In looking to find solutions, we must remain conscious of the fact that the NHS is an enormous organisation and each interaction will be different. NHS staff work extremely hard to deliver first class care and (particularly since I am married to one such staff member) I want to pay tribute to their extraordinary public service. But we need more staff to meet the demand on the system. The consistent message that I keep hearing is that a shortage of funding is a major barrier to the maintenance of the required number of staff to deliver a consistently high standard of care in our NHS.
I want our NHS to remain free at the point of delivery, but I also want NHS staff to get the funding support that they need to be able to make sure that the care delivered is of the highest standard. We can not expect a first-class universal health service if we are not prepared to pay for it.
That is why the Liberal Democrats have committed to increase NHS funding by at least £8bn per year in real terms by 2020.
This is not a number that has been pulled out of thin air. The plan is to meet the financial needs of the NHS as set out by Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England in his Five Year Forward View.
We are committing to give the NHS in England the money it says it needs to do the job properly in the medium-term. Through the additional money we want to solve the staffing shortages. We also want to see some of the additional funding spent to address two key issues.
These priorities are:
2) Prevention. Keeping people healthier for longer and supporting people to stay as healthy as possible and to receive care closer to home.
These important issues have been under-funded and neglected by the system as it is currently set up. We want that to change in the next parliament.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party to set out a credible road map for how we will safeguard the NHS over the next parliament. That is one of the main reasons why I am proud to stand for them in this election.