It was a very partisan crowd with much shouting but we still managed to have a good conversation. As you would expect we covered a range of topics including the economy and immigration but one of the key issues locally is of course the NHS. During the debate we were asked how we would deal with the 'crisis' in the NHS and I was pleased to hear the Independent Community and Health Concern share my view that there is no crisis.
The idea that there is a 'crisis' in the NHS has been whipped up by the Labour Party in particular but the Green candidate supported the view. Luckily the one acknowledged health expert in the debate completely disagreed.
There is no denying that demand for NHS services has gone up considerably. That is in large part for very welcome reasons, including the impressive advances in healthcare which we have seen in recent decades and the fact that we are all generally living longer, with the health challenges that poses. There has also been a huge increases in the number of people presenting at Accident and Emergency units when they could use their local GP or Minor Injuries Unit, like the excellent service in Kidderminster.
As for GPs, their numbers have risen by 2.3% over the last 5 years according to the King's Fund, the respected health charity which reports on all aspects of health and care.
In the past five years in coalition, the Liberal Democrats have helped to cut the number of bureaucrats in the NHS by around 17% (King's Fund). Against that we have increased the number of doctors by 9.500 and the number of nurses by 7,500 - a rise of 2.5% (King's Fund).
The Liberal Democrats want to continue to invest in the NHS - following an increase in the budget of £12,7bn in this Parliament - and to keep clinicians in charge of the service, not Whitehall as Labour was keen to do with their targets which skewed the system completely towards short-term box-ticking. Our priorities for the next parliament are:
- We have pledged to increase NHS funding in England by £8bn a year in real terms, the amount the NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens says will be needed. Labour haven't promised anything like this. The Tories have but haven't said how they would pay for it.
- We will make mental health our top priority, ending the discrimination against a problem which affects one in four people. We will do this with £500m a year additional funding (£250m of this was agreed in the coalition's last budget).
- We will ensure help for carers, the unseen backbone of health and care in our country. We will introduce an annual 'carer's bonus' worth £250 for full time carers and we will work to raise the amount you can earn before losing Carer's Allowance from £102 to £150. We will also work to ensure carer's rights in the NHS through measures like more flexible visiting hours
We have delivered in coalition and we want to continue doing so.