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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?
2. Why do you think health reforms have produced such a strong reaction from NHS staff?
All change is difficult. I think we need to work more closely with the unions and patients’ groups, and involve the public more. For example, I would want to reform PCTs so that an element of their boards are directly elected.
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?
If the independent sector or mutual sector can help to deliver better NHS services, for example by reducing waiting times for knee, hip or cataract operations, then we should have no ideological opposition to it.
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?
Yes, because we need more transparency in the funding and expenditure of the NHS, not least to expose the inequalities in health spending between poor and rich areas.
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?
Instinctively I am against them, but I would need to see the detail before saying ‘never’.
6. Does the public really value choice in the NHS?
Yes. The middle classes have always had choice. They’ve played the system. The working class have put up with second-rate services from the NHS. This is what experts call the ‘inverse care law’ and as socialists we have a duty to address it. By introducing choice, we give power to patients, and that will lead to better, fairer services.