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31 May 2023

Letter of the week: The health challenge

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Andrew Marr praises Keir Starmer’s healthcare targets (Politics, 26 May). Yet these will be more empty promises unless Labour policies include: finding a further £33bn a year to reach French and German health service spending levels; better pay and conditions to help to retain NHS staff; plans to repair or replace disintegrating hospitals; preventing the US tech company Palantir from taking over all healthcare data; opposing the government’s Life Sciences Vision, which will reduce checks on the pharmaceutical industry and vastly increase its profits; stopping Labour MPs from accepting payments from private healthcare-related companies; and developing great socio-economic change, to prevent much physical and mental illness.

Labour’s plans to increase private services will only transfer staff and resources away from the NHS, lengthen waiting times and lower standards. Rachel Reeves’s economics of zombie neoliberalism (Damon Silvers’s term) will increase morbidity and mortality.
Professor Priscilla Alderson, University College London

[See also: Letter of the week: Educating Bridget]

Diagnosing the NHS

Andrew Marr (Politics, 26 May) is concerned we “may be talking ourselves into an almost terminal depression” about the NHS, but goes on to say it has “taken so much money – will there ever be enough?” Although it’s commonplace to describe the NHS as a “bottomless pit”, it remains mid-table in the spending league of comparable societies, and among the world’s most economically efficient health systems.

Increased spending and systemic change is needed, and one hopes he is right to anticipate a “wealth tax in the middle-distance future”.  The Wealth Tax Commission report also set out a range of reforms, for example to capital gains tax, stamp duty and council tax, which would be pragmatic, incremental, and yield substantial funds for public services.
David Griffiths, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

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Both Labour and the Conservatives have promised to sort out social care. Yet Keir Starmer’s recent speech about the NHS did not mention it. One possibility is to attach nursing homes to hospitals focusing on the elderly, offering beds for those unable to go home, as well as exercise classes, vaccines etc. To fund this, taxpayers receiving the state pension should continue to pay National Insurance, maybe at a lower level.
Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

Perhaps the biggest challenge Keir Starmer faces is to persuade the public that the NHS is too big and centralised to be managed successfully. More money, more doctors, more nurses won’t fix this vast, sprawling beast. Look at other European countries to see how a diverse series of providers can offer better healthcare. Smaller networks of hospitals, clinics and GPs can provide flexible and autonomous services, still free at the point of use and funded by a mix of social insurance and taxation.
Keith Wheatley, Taunton, Somerset

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When the NHS was founded social care was seen as being of equal importance to improving health. Hettie O’Brien’s review of Emily Kenway’s book (The Critics, 26 May) excellently describes the current poor situation. It was seriously thought in 1948 that health provision could be reduced after about ten years due to the introduction of the health service. That took no account of the UK’s health then being remarkably good, partly as a result of the restrictive, and healthy, war-time diet.
David Cockayne, Lymm, Cheshire

[See also: How to save the NHS]

Cracked actors

Will Lloyd’s insightful piece on the current Tory party (“The Tory crack-up”, 26 May) led me to reflect on my personal experiences of Tory activists and councillors. I used to run into people with whom I had very substantial disagreements who nevertheless were fully committed to public service and prepared to talk. Now many have disappeared – disillusioned by the people found in Bournemouth or the Emmanuel Centre.
Les Bright, Exeter, Devon

I enjoyed Will Lloyd’s account of the Conservative Democratic Organisation and National Conservatism conferences. Am I the only one to have noticed the resemblance between Peter Cruddas and Aleister Crowley
Anthony Cable, Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

[See also: Is the National Conservatism conference a glimpse into Britain’s future?]

The case for North Sea oil

As Wolfgang Münchau states (Lateral View, 26 May), “once an industry leaves, it won’t come back”. North Sea oil and gas is one of the UK’s few remaining industries and a major employer with over 20,000 workers directly employed and 200,000 jobs onshore. Oil and gas will still provide 50 per cent of our energy needs in the mid 2030s and as old fields become less productive, new ones must be developed.

In the 1970s, when we last depended on oil and gas imports from the Middle East, the price quadrupled, the UK economy was wrecked, and Mrs Thatcher came to power. We should be learning from the past, not repeating it.
Peter Sheal, Aberdeenshire

A Boss birthday

As a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, I enjoyed Roger Alton (Diary, 26 May). We very nearly went to the same show in Rome for my 60th birthday. Instead, another of my favourite artists, Ian Prowse, with his band Amsterdam, was touring. I contacted Ian more in hope than expectation to request a private gig on my birthday… and he agreed. There may have been 60 of us, rather than 60,000 at the Bruce gig, but it was utterly life-affirming for everyone.
Andy Leslie, West Grinstead, West Sussex

On the hard shoulder

Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 26 May 2023) received good advice from his doctor. An alternative to frozen shoulders is impingement pain. Both conditions are treated with physiotherapy and pain killers. Improvement is slow and requires motivation and exercise. Find yourself a good physio, Nicholas, and keep us posted!
Soren Upton Sjolin FRCS Ed (Orth), Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Nicholas Lezard’s description of the extreme pain of the frozen shoulder was spot on. My moment of sheer agony came not with a wine cork (if only), but the cord of my petrol lawnmower. Four years later, I still pull the cord with my other hand for fear of the same pain.
Mark Richardson, Ashby cum Fenby, Lincolnshire

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[See also: Letter of the week: The case against Starmer]

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This article appears in the 31 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Rise of Greedflation