Let’s embrace being the party of the NHS

Following another year’s Federal Autumn Conference, it is important to reflect on the position of the party. This is especially the case given that we may be only 12 months away from a general election campaign. We may finally have an opportunity to help to get rid of this dreadful Conservative government, and in the process, get many new Liberal Democrat MPs elected.

Britain cannot withstand five more years of the Conservatives. Nowhere is this clearer than with our National Health Service. The NHS is in turmoil. Years of Tory mismanagement and underfunding have led to our precious NHS struggling to cope. The morale of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff is at a severe low. While the number of vacancies in the NHS is at a “staggering” high. This is a time when the NHS funding gap continues to be wide and NHS dentistry has become dysfunctional, with people having to pull out their own teeth.

The NHS is of immense importance to us Liberal Democrats, not just because it is a vital public service in helping to advance individual freedom and social justice, but because we had a hand in its creation. The great Liberal social reformer, William Beveridge invented the idea of the NHS in his report into social services in 1942. The Beveridge Report became the blueprint for the post-war welfare state. A blueprint that was largely enacted by the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee. While it was a socialist, Labour’s radical Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan who introduced an established the NHS in 1948, the original idea was that of a Liberal.

The NHS, health and social care have become of central importance for Liberal Democrats once again. It was incredibly moving to listen to Ed Davey, during his leader’s speech on Tuesday, talk about how he had to care for his mother while she was dying of cancer. Health and social care have become a hallmark of Ed Davey’s leadership, inspired by his personal experience of being a carer himself. Earlier in the Conference, our Deputy Leader and Health and Social Care Spokesperson, Daisy Cooper spoke passionately about the need to address the crisis in mental health provision.

This renewed policy focus has once again led to the party walking in the great footsteps of Beveridge. I am in awe at how good and how progressive our current policy offering on health and social care is. Amongst our current health and social care policies are the following:

These are just a few of the impressive array of health and social care policies that the party is currently championing. Even an editorial for the Guardian has speculated on the party being “the party of the NHS”. It is evident when we go into the next general election in the next few months, that the NHS, health and social care will be front and centre of our general election campaign. This makes me immensely proud to be a Liberal Democrat.

We should be emphatic that we are the party of the NHS! We should say so loudly and proudly. After all, it was originally devised by a Liberal and it matters to tens of millions of people across our country. We Liberal Democrats have the vital progressive policies needed to resolve the crisis in our NHS.

What is extraordinary is that this would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago. For so long, Labour have positioned themselves as the party of the NHS. Now we Liberal Democrats are rightly reclaiming that mantle. But this does not come after a decade of a Labour government or even with a weak Labour Opposition that looks likely to lose the next election. This comes as Labour has a significant lead in the opinion polls and appears likely to win the next general election. This speaks volumes of the policy shifts within Labour, as the Labour Party appears somewhat gripped by small-c conservative policy timidity.

While the Conservatives seek to undermine our NHS through their negligence and mismanagement, and while Labour are too timid to embrace the necessary progressive policies, it is up to us Liberal Democrats to save the NHS we hold so dear. We invented the idea of the NHS. We are the party of the NHS. And most importantly of all, we are the party to save the NHS, both now and for future generations!

* Paul Hindley is a PhD politics student at Lancaster University and a member of the Liberal Democrats in Blackpool.

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  • Kay Kirkham 29th Sep '23 - 1:04pm

    I have no problem with highlighting cancer treatment – it has played well in the press for example. I am, after all, a cancer survivor ( of the same cancer that killed Ed’s father all thsoe years ago) . But we should not forget that heart disease is the causes of 25% of deaths in the UK – very similar to cancer. I would have like to see more emphasis on prevention as well.

  • Simon McGrath 29th Sep '23 - 2:57pm

    Have the Tories really ‘underfunded ‘ the NHS. According to the Kings Fund , spending was £150.3bn in 2018/19 and £181.7bn in 2022/23 (all in real terms ). That is a far far bigger increases than the £6bn we were proposing in 2019. It may be the case it needs more money – but we also need to look at why things are getting worse despite all the extra spending

  • Sandy Smith 29th Sep '23 - 3:57pm

    While everyone claims that Beveridge had the idea for the NHS, the idea that evolved into the NHS came from the Dewar Report of 1912 that led to the creation of Highlands and Island Medical Services, a state-funded service that covered half the landmass of Scotland. Though healthcare was not completely free – there were very modest charges – the initiative was clearly the precursor of the National Health Services that launched in England and Wales, and Scotland, in 1948.

  • Long live Simon McGrath! Liberals should not breathlessly defend any institution without analysis and without question.

  • I feel this article seems to be confusing two things. What is important is not the NHS per se, but the principle that people can access the healthcare they need (and not be denied it because of long waiting lists/insufficient doctors/can’t afford it). It’s not at all obvious to me that the best way to achieve that is through one monolithic nationalised organisation: The impression I have is that most European countries seem to have achieved better results than the UK here using completely different approaches (insurance-based, more private or community sector involvement, etc.). So maybe we should look to them for ideas rather than putting all out trust in a specific organisational model?

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