A few weeks ago, straight questions on the NHS were put to every Parliamentary candidate in Shropshire. The process was entirely above board, open and transparent. In each constituency, a registered voter wrote to their local candidates. Evidence was given to candidates about the escalating crisis in the NHS. Candidates were asked to respond to questions on NHS finance, locally and nationally, on privatisation of clinical and support services in the NHS; and on the threats to one of our A&E units and the hospital on the same site.
Evidence was made available to candidates about what’s now happening to the NHS. We told them about the £18 million deficit in the budget of the organisation running the Royal Shrewsbury and Princess Royal Hospitals. We told them about the deliberate, planned and engineered £30 billion black hole in NHS finance nationally. We told them about the impact of declining investment in the NHS: the 76% of acute hospitals in debt, and the winter of A&E chaos that the NHS has endured. We told candidates about escalating privatisation, describing some of the massive NHS contracts that are now being awarded to big business. We told them of the risks of having a single A&E in Shropshire, covering a patient population of 540,000 over 2000 square miles.
And what happened?
One candidate (Owen Paterson) entered his name on the survey, but sadly didn’t want to tell us anything about his views on the NHS.
Ten candidates completed the survey: all five Green Party candidates, three Labour Party candidates, and one candidate each from the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.
One Liberal Democrat sent us an email saying he was not going to complete the survey. One Conservative candidate sent an email that was about the NHS but did not respond to any of the evidence we had provided about finance, privatisation, or what’s happening to our local hospitals.
And what did they say?
- All of the ten candidates who completed the survey believed that the NHS in Shropshire was under-funded.
- Nine out of ten (the Green Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrat respondents) believed the NHS nationally was under-funded. One (from UKIP) felt that there was a lot of waste in the NHS.
- All ten were opposed to privatisation of clinical services. Nine of the ten (Green Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrat candidates) were opposed to privatisation of NHS support services, including scientific and specialist services. One (from UKIP) opposed outsourcing of cleaning but did not state more general opposition to privatisation of support services.
- Responses to the question on what options would be acceptable around local hospital services were more varied. Eight of the ten gave firm support to a single option: keeping both hospitals – the Royal Shrewsbury and the Princess Royal – as District General Hospitals with a consultant-led A&E service. The eight comprised all five Green Party candidates, two Labour Party candidates and the UKIP candidate.
One Labour Party respondent felt that a new hospital between Shrewsbury and Telford would also be acceptable (i.e. she supported two options; keeping both A&Es and hospitals or building a new hospital). The Liberal Democrat respondent preferred the option of keeping both A&Es and both hospitals – but said if one of them were to go, facilities should be retained at Shrewsbury.
Did any of them agree with the option we’re likely to get after the election from NHS bosses, of closing the A&E and closing all the acute beds and services at one of our hospitals? No!
And what do we say?
Gill George, Chair of Shropshire NHS, said:
‘We were genuinely impressed with the knowledge of almost all those who responded. It was reassuring that a good proportion of our Parliamentary candidates in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin understand the NHS, and express a willingness to fight for it. We’re really grateful to them for taking the time to reply.
It’s so interesting that the candidates who oppose NHS cuts are willing to talk to us. The ones who oppose closing down one of our A&Es and hospitals here in Shropshire are happy to say so. The ones who oppose the terrifying sell off of the NHS that’s happening now will be upfront and honest about their opposition.
What about the rest, though? Twenty four candidates were asked tough questions on the NHS by voters in their constituency – and fourteen of them weren’t willing to give straight answers to those straight questions. That has to send some warning messages about accountability’.
Shropshire Defend Our NHS gives our sincere thanks to Janet Phillips, Duncan Kerr, Emma Bullard, Peter Hawkins, Cath Edwards, Graeme Currie, Laura Davies, Katrina Gilman, Charlotte Barnes and Andrea Allen.
 Owen Paterson sent us an email after this press release was issued. He stated “I am afraid that I make a point of not participating in surveys of this kind, preferring to make my own views clear”. The remaining content unfortunately did not respond to the information about under-funding and privatisation that we provided in the survey, although Mr Paterson expressed positive views about both private enterprise and the record of the outgoing government. Mr Paterson’s email is available on request.