Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Harriet Harman

Red Pepper / Keep Our NHS Public survey of Labour deputy leadership candidates views on the NHS

June 16, 2007
5 min read

1. The government has put massive investment into the NHS, yet polls suggest the Tories are now more trusted to run it. What would be the first three steps that you would like to see to improve the NHS?

The idea that the Tories can be trusted with the NHS is absurd. Whatever they are saying is designed to achieve one thing — to get them into power. If that happens we would see how little they really care about the NHS. For all the undoubted importance of issues such as hospital waiting times, our overriding health policy priority has to be to tackle the wide disparity in health outcomes that still exists in Britain today between people from different regions and social backgrounds.

We know these inequalities have economic costs both to the NHS itself and in terms of the number of working days lost. So, it makes economic sense to tackle them – but the most powerful reason for putting this issue at the heart of our party’s policy agenda is the social and human cost of these inequalities.

Consider for example the gap in birth weight between babies born to families in the lowest and highest incomes groups, which is perhaps the most glaring example of health inequality that we face. Babies born underweight are statistically far more likely to die before their first birthday. They are also much more likely to develop behavioural problems, have a low IQ, and suffer from chronic ill health later in life. Moreover, there is strong likelihood that they themselves will then grow up to have babies of their own, who are also of a low birth weight; thus perpetuating the cycle of inequality.

In the last ten years we have done a great deal to address health inequalities. Maternal health and well being for example is an issue that receives more attention in Whitehall today than it has ever done in the past. We now need to address the human cost of these inequalities. As a party and a Government we need to become more vocal on the issue of health inequalities. We need to highlight their pernicious effect on society and to try to put them at the forefront of the debate on health, rather than on the margins.

2. Why do you think health reforms have produced such a strong reaction from NHS staff?

Whatever the reasons for the hostility shown by some – although certainly not all NHS staff — we do need to demonstrate a new willingness to listen and take staff with us as we carry out future reforms.

3. Should extensive private sector involvement in the health service be continued or curtailed and why? Do you favour the expansion of private involvement into primary care, with companies running GP surgeries and PCT services being outsourced?

With power and resources now being devolved from Whitehall to local health care providers, we need to strengthen the way in which these local organisations are held accountable to the public. The freedom of PCTs for example to commission services and to set health care priorities to suit the needs of the local population, is one that I welcome, but these decisions shouldn’t be taken in a political vacuum. Each community should be able to hold their local trust to account for the decisions that they take. There is a strong case for having directly elected officials on each primary care trust board, making local decision-making more open and transparent, and helping to restore public trust in NHS management

We need to be careful that in addressing this democratic deficit in the NHS, we do not undermine the progress that has been made since 1997 in ensuring that all patients, wherever they live, receive a consistent level of care in key clinical areas based on national targets. We would also need to make sure that in deciding what their priorities should be, trusts do not sideline some of the strategically important, but less politically sensitive services such as public health and health promotion activities.

4. Aside from private sector involvement, reforms have aimed to create a quasi-market with NHS hospitals competing with each other and earning their ‘payments by results’. Has this been wise and should it continue to be the direction of travel?

Outside providers have undoubtedly helped the NHS to cut waiting times for elective surgery and reduce pressure on NHS hospitals. It is clear, however, that independent sector treatment centres have not always proved to be more efficient or innovative that NHS-run elective centres. When we consider bringing in outside agencies, we must make sure we do not jeopardise one of the important developments in the NHS – the very welcome shift towards greater multi-disciplinary working. Fundamentally the NHS must remain a public service within the public sector.

5. There has been talk recently of charges for health services – Charles Clarke said the NHS should provide core services for free but demand a fee for peripheral treatments. What would your policy be on NHS charges?

I’m against the extension of charges. They can be very expensive and bureaucratic to collect.

6. Does the public really value choice in the NHS?

Yes, if it means the service is shaped for their benefit but what really matters is getting the best possible treatment in the shortest possible time.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency