It’s been great to get back out into the community as we recover from the pandemic. I spent the summer knocking on doors to hear first-hand the concerns of my constituents in Bedford and Kempston. The issue that came up time and time again was the lack of access to face-to-face GP services and the backlog of care in the NHS.
I was pleased then to meet a number of frontline service workers on 999 Memorial Day and David Carter and Liz Lees, Chief Executive and Chief Nurse of Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to get an update about services at Bedford Hospital.
It came at the end of a significant week in Parliament when the Government voted to introduce a 10 per cent national insurance tax hike to pay for health and social care.
Meeting the Covid 19 Bereaved Families for Justice to join them on a walk to the National Covid Memorial Wall was a powerful reflection on the trauma the public and the NHS has faced.
With the Covid death toll at 134,000,and Covid deaths still averaging over 100 a day it is so important that those who have lost and those that will lose loved ones in the coming months, will be front and centre of the Government’s decision making when it comes to the inquiry and memorialisation.
It was a helpful background for my meeting with Bedford hospital where we discussed a range of issues that my constituents had raised. Following successive CQC reports showing Bedford maternity services “require improvement”, I was given assurances about some very positive developments in maternity services with an increase in the number of midwives, and a drive for further specialist recruitment.
I saw the new A&E department with its improved waiting, triage and treatment areas - and was hugely impressed to learn that Bedford Hospital leads the region in processing patents from ambulance to admission, meaning local crews are back on the road ASAP, supporting more people.
However, the hospital is very concerned about the pressures the A&E Department is experiencing, with patient numbers already at levels seen during winter crises. Reasons for this are complex and varied and of course related to the pandemic and pressures on primary care services having a knock-on effect on hospitals and social care settings.
I've long argued that the NHS and social care need more funding after a decade of cuts, but many who voted for Brexit in the hope of securing £350 million a week for the NHS, or who voted for the Conservative party in the belief that taxes would not be raised, must feel very disillusioned at the Government’s new tax levies. It’s fundamentally unfair that the asset rich are being paid for and protected by the working, asset poor - millions of whom are also getting their working tax credits cut next month on top.
We need a national and fair effort to deal with the crisis in social care, and a plan that goes far wider than just looking at funding. We need to address the recruitment and retention crisis in health and social care, which is the most urgent issue at present. It is vital that any long-term plans are included alongside immediate measures. We must properly value those in our health and social care workforce, not tax them to the hilt.