Hilary Benn

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

June 16, 2007
3 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?

I think the NHS is in much better shape than people give it credit for. If you ask people about whether they were treated well on their last visit to a hospital, about four in five say they were. But if you ask them about whether the NHS is providing a good service nationally, just half say it is. We need to encourage people to trust their own experiences more.

But, the NHS is facing some difficult issues at the moment and we also need to listen to, and give more say to, front line staff. That’s often where the best ideas come from and we should not hand down reform from on high.

Finally, we have to keep sight of why public services matter. Why are we passionate about public services? Because they help us fight inequality. They give us the same treatment and opportunities, whether we are old or young, rich or poor, or black or white. This is about our common humanity and that’s what we should be defending.

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

Change is always difficult, and there have been some problems. I also think staff would like to be listened to more. But I also think that the vast majority of NHS staff recognise the extra investment that Labour has put in. It is no coincidence that there are 85,000 more nurses, 32,000 more doctors and much shorter waiting times than a decade ago, it is the result of changing the way the NHS works to give patients a better service.

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?

What matters most is protecting the foundation of the NHS – treatment free at the point of use – and doing what is best for people who are sick. If that means GP surgeries open at the weekends, more doctors doing operations so people don’t wait so long in pain, and more satellite provision (like the dialysis unit in Beeston in my constituency) then that’s what we should be doing.

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?

We should continue with reforms that work and improve things for people who are sick.

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 am opposed. Treatment must remain free at the point of use.

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

What people want most of all is a good service and speedy treatment, free at the point of use, that they can rely on when they are sick. But they also want to know that they are treated with respect and asked about the treatment they receive. I think choice is an important part of both these aspirations.

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