Our NHS has always held a special place in the hearts of the British people and is hailed as the best health service around the world.
Sadly, that reputation is under intense pressure. None of the blame for this lies with the great men and women, many from around the world, who carry out miracles night and day to keep us well and care for us when we're not.
Despite their heroic commitment, our health care professionals continue to be massively unrewarded for their service.
The Government's mealy-mouthed platitudes veil the reality that our NHS is in crisis. This hasn't happened overnight. Constant changes to the way it is resourced and organised have brought us closer to the point of no return.
I'm proud that during 13 years in power my own government trebled NHS spending. But the introduction of PFI and Foundation Hospitals paved the way for a competitive market in the NHS that was seized upon by rapacious private companies whose first priority was their shareholders, putting profit before patient care.
That undermining of the core concept of our NHS has been compounded by the desire of both the coalition government and the current Tory government to go even further in fragmenting a genuinely National Health Service.
The top-down reorganisation has been followed by instructions to cut billions from budgets and for each area to develop a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), which could see almost a billion pounds cut from our own local health and care services.
Figures released at the end of January give us a snapshot of what has been described as a 'humanitarian crisis' by the highly respected Red Cross. 315 urgent NHS operations cancelled in December alone, including 12 cancelled for the second time or more. In total 4,093 urgent operations were cancelled in 2016, up from 3,779 in 2015 and 3,216 in 2014.
In just one week in January, 51 trusts reported serious operational pressures, 11 trusts acknowledged incidents in which they were unable to deliver comprehensive care and 18 trusts had bed occupancy over 99%.
To add to the pain, many are struggling to book an appointment with their GP - a situation set to worsen as more GPs retire from the service and new recruits are in short supply.
No one should be surprised by this. The Tories opposed the creation of the NHS and have consistently failed to fund it adequately over any period when they've been in power.
They have an ideological hatred of it, because at its roots it was a socialist idea. The belief that we can best look after each other if we all make a fair collective contribution is anathema to dogmatic Tories who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The rest of us know just how valuable our NHS is. A free at the point of need service, funded from general taxation by everyone capable of contributing is the best way of providing quality health care for all.
Our grandparents weren't daft. They lived through the years when life and death were determined by the coins in your purse or wallet and at the end of the Second World War they came to the consensus that a universal health care system was the best way forward.
It is our responsibility now to honour their post-war commitment; to join together and demand that the NHS be restored to its rightful position and not be seen as a prize to be won by the highest bidder.
And let's be clear. One of the prizes that Donald Trump has his eyes on if we strike up a bilateral trade deal with the USA is to let his friends in the U.S. private health industry get their claws into our beloved NHS. We should bear that in mind as our PM continues to appease Trump in the weeks and months ahead.
Newcastle Chronicle and Journal
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