“Only the Green Party is offering a bold and effective solution to the NHS funding crisis. We must finally put an end to the pain of privatisation that has been inflicted by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories. The Green Party is the only party that never has and never will collude in the dismantling and selling off of our beloved NHS. Instead, we will give the NHS the funding it needs to meet the challenges of the 21st century.” – Molly Scott Cato, Green Party candidate in Bristol West
How many times have you heard either Labourites or Conservatives say that it is they who are the true party of the NHS?
If you’re a frequent viewer of Prime Minister’s Questions, odds are that you hear it at least a few times a month.
When it comes to the NHS, the conversation usually centres around a familiar set of topics: long waiting lines, junior doctor contracts, privatisations, missed targets, and the general ineptitude of Jeremy Hunt and the government that he represents. Indeed, we seem to have got so used to the negativity surrounding the conversation that we’re barely surprised when organisations like the Red Cross describe the NHS as being in a state of “humanitarian crisis“.
Perhaps that’s why it feels so refreshing when, on a rare occasion, you get a glimpse of what things could be like if only the society we live in looked a little different, and if only our politicians thought in slightly different terms. Caroline Lucas, the joint leader of the Green Party, provided one such moment when she, during the ITV Leaders’ Debate last week, remarked that a lot can be done to help the NHS by way of tackling climate change.
At a glance, it may seem like a leap — how are the two really connected? — but, of course, the closer you look, the more sense it makes.
In 2016, a report published by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimated that health problems caused by air pollution costs the UK more than £20bn per year. (It’s worth noting, here, that the budget for the NHS in 2016 was £116bn.) The same report argues that air pollution contributes to a staggering 40,000 pre-mature deaths per year in the UK. And another report, also published in 2016 — this one by the World Health Organisation — estimates that 19% of all cancers can be linked to air pollution.
It is perfectly clear that environmental factors have an enormous impact on public health in the UK. That the very air we breathe sets the NHS back more than £20bn per year is nothing short of a total catastrophe. And yet, despite this, both Conservatives and Labourites continue to back fossil fuels and the expansion of airports. When it comes to tackling climate change and air pollution, the Green Party really does stand out as the only serious alternative. As such, they also stand out as the only party that is genuinely concerned about illness prevention.
In Bristol West, the Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato emerges as another politician who, like Lucas, often gives us that rare view of a different kind of politics. Scott Cato’s candidacy — including her approach to the NHS — is, without doubt, informed by her training and work as an economist. As the author of several books on economic theory and policy, she has done significantly more than most politicians in the UK to critically address the way economies interact with social and environmental demands. In much of her writing, Scott Cato advocates a green economy that prioritises environmental protection and social justice. It is therefore hardly surprising to learn that she takes the NHS as seriously as she does, and many voters in Bristol West will surely rejoice in a candidate who has pledged to fight against the privatisation of health services, and to support increased funding.
“[NHS] spending,” says Scott Cato, “is at its lowest since the 1950s and, at the same time, our NHS has been asked to make £22bn worth of cuts — cuts that researchers have concluded are responsible for 30,000 excess deaths a year.”
More, so called Sustainability and Transformation Partnership plans will drastically reduce the number of beds in hospitals around the country.
“In Bristol,” Scott Cato points out, “[these] plans, which were only revealed after pressure from healthcare campaigners, will see £139m of cuts to local healthcare services and a further £104m of as yet unspecified cuts. We can’t stand by and let this happen.”
Privatisation of the NHS has previously had the support of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labourites, but it has never been backed by the Green Party. Many would argue that one big problem associated with privatisations is that they make services more expensive. Others might say that they undermine the status of staff, and that it can be difficult to hold private companies to account. Molly Scott Cato would also argue that it’s something that people have never actually asked for. As she said at a local husting a couple of weeks ago: “it’s so clearly an area of policy where Conservative governments and all three of the main Westminster parties have done something completely against what the public want.”
Bristol West is one of quite few constituencies where a Green Party candidate has a real chance of winning. It is, therefore, one of few constituencies that has a real chance of electing an MP that will significantly add to the intellectual and ideological diversity of the House of Commons. Molly Scott Cato is a serious economic thinker and she has spent her entire adult life developing methods for implementing a green economy aimed at delivering sustainability and social justice. And, just like the party that she represents, she promotes a political model that comprehensively addresses the challenges of the NHS — from air pollution to privatisation.
What is party is the true party of the NHS? Well, it’s worth having a think about it.
#VoteGreen2017 to #ChangeTheGame.