Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor
International inspectors should be brought in to compare the performance of the NHS in England and Wales, David Cameron said today in his latest Commons clash with Ed Miliband.
The Labour leader challenged Mr Cameron to defend the coalition’s record on the NHS, insisting waiting times were going up and patients were suffering.
But the Prime Minister claimed his Government had a record to be proud of and told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions Mr Miliband was hiding from his own party’s record in Wales, adding the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) was welcome to visit and compare them.
Mr Miliband launched his attack by highlighting claims by leading health organisations that health and social care systems were at “breaking point”.
He asked the Prime Minister: “Why is that happening?”
Mr Cameron said the English NHS was treating 1.3 million more outpatients across six million appointments, seen to by thousands of additional doctors and nurses.
“A record we can be proud of,” Mr Cameron said, adding: “Why? Because we invested in the NHS, they cut the NHS in Wales.”
Mr Miliband said: “Everyone can see what you are doing – after five years in office, you can’t defend your record on the NHS in England.
“Every time you mention Wales we know you are running scared of the NHS in England. In England, we have the highest waiting lists for six years, the longest waits in A&E for 10 years, the cancer treatment target missed for the first time ever, and millions of people can’t get to see their GP.
“Won’t you just admit this: the NHS in England is going backwards, isn’t it?”
The Prime Minister said: “Let’s have an OECD inquiry. I support it, do you?”
Mr Miliband said he was the one asking questions and it was the Prime Minister’s job to answer them at the weekly joust.
The Labour leader said: “The whole country will have noticed you could not defend what is happening in the English National Health Service for which you are responsible.
“Why? Because four years ago you told us your top-down reorganisation would improve the NHS but now we know it is £3 billion down the drain.
“Will you now admit in public what you are saying in private? Your top-down reorganisation has been a total disaster for the NHS.”
Mr Cameron hit back by saying he was “not only happy to defend our record on the NHS” and repeated his challenge for an inspection.
He said: “I want a comparison between the Labour NHS in Wales being cut, no targets met on cancer since 2008, on A&E since 2008. I want a comparison.
“I will allow the OECD to come in and look at the English health service. Let me ask you again: will you let it look at the failures in Wales?”
Mr Miliband said it was “extraordinary” that Mr Cameron made “no attempt to even answer the question”.
He said: “Instead of smearing the NHS in Wales, you should be saving the NHS in England.”
Mr Miliband said patients wanted to know what the health service would look like in future and quoted Tory MP Sarah Wollaston (Totnes), the chair of the health select committee, as saying unless the Government changed tack there would have to be charging for services.
The Labour leader challenged: “While you have promised nothing more than inflation for the NHS, we have shown how we can raise £2.5 billion a year over and above that. Why don’t you admit, all you offer on the NHS is five more years of crisis?”
Mr Cameron said the Leader of the Opposition was “totally terrified of Labour’s failures in Wales on the NHS”.
He said: “You will not answer the simplest of questions.”
The Prime Minister quoted a former Labour adviser as saying that over the past five years the “NHS has been remarkably successful”.
Mr Cameron added: “We are treating millions more patients than five years ago. The NHS has become £20 billion more efficient, a world leading genomes programme is harnessing the best of this country’s medical expertise and the global rankings have just ranked us the highest performing health system of 11 industrialised nations.”
Winning laughs from his benches at the expense of Mr Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls, Mr Cameron said: “This guy was obviously a much more effective Labour adviser than either of those two.”
The premier added: “You’re trading unattributable quotes and you quoted one. Let me quote one, this shadow minister, I think, sums it up: ‘We don’t have a policy problem, we have got a massive Ed Miliband problem’.
“I think we have seen that in evidence today.”
Facing loud shouting from the Tory benches, Mr Miliband replied: “I have to say, I don’t think you’re in any position to give a masterclass in leadership. Two MPs have defected, nine of your 2010 MPs are standing down and every day you change your policy on Europe.”
The Labour leader questioned whether a campaign strategist was blocking taxes on tobacco companies to fund one-week cancer tests, as proposed by Labour, because of his lobbying interests.
Mr Miliband said: “Why won’t Lynton Crosby let you do it?”
Mr Cameron replied: “What we are doing is treating half a million more cancer patients every year than under Labour.
“What was it the Royal College of GPs said about your policy? They said this: ‘A promise will only serve to create a false expectation that cannot be met’.
“Like all your promises unravelling in one go.”
Mr Miliband ended his questions by attacking the Prime Minister for a rising deficit, the “worst cost of living crisis in a century” and added: “You are in total denial on the NHS.
“The NHS is on the ballot paper in May because it is already at breaking point and all you offer is five more years of crisis. You can’t tax the tobacco companies because your lobbyist won’t let you. You won’t tax expensive properties because your donors won’t let you.
“The British public know you can’t trust this Prime Minister on the NHS and every day you prove them right.”
Mr Cameron said: “I’ll tell you the figures that have come out in the last fortnight: a record fall in unemployment, inflation down to a six-year low, the IMF saying we are the fastest growing economy in the G7 countries – that is what’s happening.
“What we can see from Labour is failure and weakness, no economic plan, nothing to offer this country – as I put it last week, simply not up to the job.”
A senior Labour source said later: “What we have here is a politically-motivated smear campaign by a Prime Minister who has forgotten his job is to save the NHS and has decided to smear it instead.”
The source said that Labour had made clear it is willing for the OECD to carry out a review of the health service’s record in Wales, on condition that Conservatives did not try to use unverified early information from any study for political reasons.
Reductions in spending on health in Wales were caused by the 10% reduction in the central Government block grant imposed by Mr Cameron’s adminstration, said the Labour source.
But he said that, despite this fall in central funding, 87% of cancer patients in Wales were seen within two days, compared to 84% in England, while the number of Welsh residents receiving treatment in English hospitals had fallen by 10% since 2010.
A report by the Nuffield Trust found little difference between the performance of health services in the nations of the UK and in some ways the Welsh service was outperforming the others, said the Labour source.
“We have agreed to an OECD inquiry, but we are not going to allow Jeremy Hunt to play games with it,” said the source.
“We want a guarantee from Mr Hunt that he wouldn’t use the unverified information and would stick to the publication timetable of the OECD report.”
Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor