SAVING the NHS was the issue of the week for parliamentary hopefuls with the general election drawing ever closer.
The six Chichester prospective parliamentary candidates were all invited to receive a petition from non-political pressure group 38 Degrees on Saturday.
I think what’s gone on in the NHS is a disasterDavid McGill
However, three of the six candidates did not appear, nor did they reply to the invitation.
Petition organiser Jan Birtwell said she received no response from Tory candidate Andrew Tyrie, UKIP candidate Andrew Moncreiff and Patria candidate Andrew Emerson.
Parliamentary hopefuls Andrew Smith, from the Liberal Democrats, and Mark Farwell, from the Labour Party, arrived at the Market Cross in Chichester city centre along with Sarah Sharp, representing Green Party candidate Jasper Richmond.
Asked what her goal for the NHS would be, Mrs Birtwell said no market forces should be allowed to influence NHS decisions.
“So that it became again publicly owned, publicly run and publicly accountable,” she said.
Nearly 1,300 Chichester constituents put their signature to a campaign to save the NHS.
Husband and wife Jan and Bob Birtwell collected the signatures as part of pressure group 38 Degrees’ attempt to preserve the NHS.
They were joined by fellow campaigner David McGill from Pulborough.
“I think what’s gone on in the NHS is a disaster,” he said.
He referenced the recent awarding of the musculoskeletal contract at St Richard’s Hospital, in Chichester, which he said cost the taxpayer £250,000.
The petition claims the NHS is at ‘crisis point’.
“Politicians have privatised huge parts of the NHS, not given hospitals and other health services the funding they need and ignored advice from doctors and nurses,” it said, calling on politicians to keep the NHS free and available when it was needed.
“One of the things is that we’re not political-party affiliated so we can tell the truth,” said Mr McGill.
Labour’s candidate reflected on what he said had been a ‘pretty good week’ for his campaign, after what he said had been a well-received hustings at the University of Chichester.
Dr Farwell said his PhD thesis had been based on the NHS.
“My mother was mother to six children and we were all born in the NHS,” he said, adding his mother ‘absolutely swore’ by the health service.
“I think it’s one of the greatest things that Britain’s ever done,” he said.
He blamed ‘Tory government reform in the 1990s, such as the community care act, for leading the health service closer towards privatisation.
“What saving our NHS is all about and particularly the involvement of 38 Degrees is restoring the NHS to its rightful place as a public good,” said Dr Farwell.
He described the health service as a ‘national institution.
“I’m massively supporting this today and I’m absolutely committed 100 per cent,” he said.
“If I was in parliament that would be top of my political agenda.”
Candidates spoke of the recent controversy over the £235m musculoskeletal contact at St Richard’s Hospital.
“I think one of the issues that’s outstanding is to whom is the Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group accountable,” said Lib Dem Andrew Smith.
The CCG was the organisation that awarded the contract initially to the BUPA and Central Surrey Health partnership over the Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Mr Smith said in theory it was NHS England that held the CCG accountable.
“In practice, they don’t have the ability or inclination to scrutinise all the CCGs around the country,” he said.
“It was picked up by the health and adult social care committee (HASC) of the county council.
“The CCG could be taking a holistic view of the service and not creating an unstable situation with the NHS contract where they left St Richard’s Hospital with a non-sustainable service.”
Mr Smith said if NHS England ‘weren’t going to do the job’, then the role should be given to the HASC committee at West Sussex County Council.
“And there’s also a question mark over whether the CCG has the skill set manage contracts,” he said.
“The two big issues facing the NHS is the growing aging population and that we’re all living longer.”
He said two out of three people in hospital were aged over 65.
“Often, hospitals have done all they can for them but they can’t release the person from hospital because they’ve got no where to go and no one look after them,” he said.
Mr Smith said these issues needed to be looked at to secure the NHS for the future.
Green representative Sarah Sharp said she was impressed at how campaigners at the market Cross on Saturday were prepared to lay aside political allegiances for the good of the NHS.
“There are other parties involved but when they join here they put their party away,” she said.
“There were people from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party and they put that aside for the common good.
“We want an NHS that’s free. I believe if we had to pay for our doctors’ appointments the health of the nation would deteriorate because we wouldn’t go.”
She said it was important to think ‘long term’ and link the NHS with other issues such as education and transport.
“The Green Party is thinking long term about climate change and thinking of the effect on our health from climate change,” she said. “We will be more vulnerable. We need to look after all these issues. The NHS is very important but we must not see it in isolation but see it in a wider context.”
Mr Smith, Dr Farwell and Mrs Sharp received the nearly 1,300-strong petition at the Market Cross at 11.30am.