Health Reform

This week in the Commons we will once again be debating health reforms.  I've received some e-mails about this.  But I feel that we mustn't lose sight of what the changes are really about and why they're needed.

Since its foundation in 1948, the NHS has become one our best loved institutions.  The public strongly supports its founding principle: healthcare for all, free at the point of use, unrelated to the ability to pay.   All of this will remain.

But the NHS has to meet the demands of an ageing population and the rising costs of new treatments and technologies.  These are challenges that cannot be ducked.  If we were as good in England at treating cancer as the average European country, we could save 5,000 lives a year.

All of this costs money - and the Government is providing it, increasing NHS spending every year, an extra £12.5 billion in this Parliament.

But the scale of the challenge also requires a change in the way the NHS is organised.

The Health Bill moves control of commissioning services from primary care trusts to frontline health professionals.

As I've said before, I don't think local people will mourn the abolition of the Primary Care Trust and Strategic Health Authority that tried to close our local hospitals.

And the savings from scrapping these layers of bureaucracy will be £4.5 billion - money that will be ploughed back into patient care.

We have excellent local GPs in West Sussex and I have already met with the doctors in Pulborough who have already begun to form a commissioning group.  This is a pattern that we see all over the county.

I also think that it's a step forward to give councils the responsibility and power, through the new Health and Wellbeing Boards, to tackle public health problems such as obesity and alcohol abuse.

Nor do I have a problem with the private sector providing care under the NHS umbrella if it remains free and available to NHS patients.

Together, these changes mean more money to deal with rising healthcare needs and costs, a focus on people's health, rather than simply treating illness, and doctors given the budgets and the freedom to provide the best care.

Christopher N Howarth