NHS will ‘break’ without ‘war footing’ plan to tackle backlog, Rishi Sunak to warn

 “If Rishi Sunak thinks NHS waiting lists are an emergency, why didn’t he do anything about it as chancellor?

“He says he wants to put the NHS onto a ‘war footing’, but the Conservatives have spent years disarming it.” Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary.

Ashley Cowburn www.independent.co.uk 

Rishi Sunak is set to warn that the NHS will “break” without a “war footing” plan to tackle the backlog of patients, as he attempts to move away from the debate about tax that has dominated the Tory leadership race.

The former chancellor will insist on Saturday that the public “shouldn’t have to make a choice with a gun to their head”, saying people are turning to private care and using money “they can’t really afford” as a result of NHS delays.

In his first major speech since reaching the final stage of the leadership contest, Mr Sunak will also describe the backlog facing the NHS as the “biggest public service emergency” the country faces.

Figures from May showed that 6.6 million patients were waiting for planned care. Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, warned earlier this year that NHS waiting lists would continue to rise until at least 2024.

Under existing plans, the government and NHS England are aiming to eliminate all waits exceeding a year by March 2025.

Setting out his proposals, Mr Sunak will pledge to eliminate one-year waits six months earlier than planned, by September 2024, and to ensure that overall numbers are falling by 2023. He will also aim to ensure that everyone waiting for more than 18 weeks is contacted by an NHS trust within 100 days.

The former chancellor will also pledge to establish a vaccines-style taskforce on “day one” if he wins the race to succeed Boris Johnson in No 10 against his rival, foreign secretary Liz Truss.

Mr Sunak will say on Saturday that creating a “backlogs taskforce” with independent leadership will cut bureaucracy and waste and “take the best of our experience from Covid”.

But his pledges come just days after experts told The Independent that a £2bn cut to NHS budgets, caused by the government’s unfunded pay deal for staff, will hit cancer backlogs and patient care.

The shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, asked: “If Rishi Sunak thinks NHS waiting lists are an emergency, why didn’t he do anything about it as chancellor?

“He says he wants to put the NHS onto a ‘war footing’, but the Conservatives have spent years disarming it.”

Danny Mortimer, the deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed Mr Sunak’s focus on the backlog, but told The Independent that the plan “cannot honestly be described as putting the NHS on a war footing”.

He stressed that the ability to tackle the waiting list is being undermined by a growing shortage of staff, along with “crumbling infrastructure and estates, and the knock-on impact of a crisis in social care”.

Mr Mortimer added: “These risks are heightened by the government’s refusal to fund in full the new pay deal. Despite these challenges, the NHS in England is facing its first real-terms cut in funding this year since 1997, due to unexpected cost pressures and soaring inflation. This reality is not addressed in Mr Sunak’s plan.

“If either of the Tory leadership candidates truly intend to improve the care patients have every right to expect, they must commit to giving the NHS the capital investment it desperately needs.

“Both candidates must commit to a fully funded plan for expanding the number of health and care staff. How can any prime minister claim the NHS is on a war footing without giving it the troops that it needs on the front line?”

Addressing the matter of the backlogs, Mr Sunak will say on Saturday: “Millions of people are waiting for life-saving cancer screening, major surgeries and consultations.

“Already people are using money they can’t really afford to go private. That is privatisation by the back door, and it’s wrong. People shouldn’t have to make a choice with a gun to their head.

“If we do not immediately set in train a radically different approach, the NHS will come under unsustainable pressure and break… and so from day one I will make tackling the NHS backlog my No 1 public service priority.”

Mr Sunak will also say that the NHS App and NHS 111 will be expanded to be the first port of call for patients, allowing them to “input their symptoms and then be directed to who is best placed to help”.

And he will back a plan to expand the number of community diagnostic hubs by repurposing 58,000 vacant high-street shops, with the aim of boosting the number of these hubs to 200 by March 2024.

Newly-elected MP backs £11.2million bid for ‘levelling up’ cash to improve Seaton seafront

An £11.2million bid for ‘levelling up’ cash to boost the Axe Valley and improve Seaton seafront has won the backing of newly-elected MP for Tiverton and Honiton Richard Foord.

Local Democracy Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Mr Foord says Government funding for major infrastructure projects could help ‘spruce up’ the East Devon town and ‘create a swathe of new office and industrial space for local businesses’.

Liberal Democrat Mr Foord has also backed a bid for a planned Cullompton relief road in Mid Devon that could cost £28million.

Respective district councils in both areas are behind the schemes and have bid for Whitehall money.

East Devon’s £11.2million project aims to develop the Axe Valley, with specific focus on improving Seaton seafront and the development of new office and work spaces.

If successful, the council will contribute a further £4million towards the total estimated cost of £15.5 million.

Mr Foord said: “The proposals put forward will build the much-needed Cullompton relief road, spruce up the seafront at Seaton, and create a swathe of new office and industrial space for local businesses.”

He added: “Our communities have been taken for granted for too long and are crying out for investment.

“You cannot level up the UK without investing in rural areas.

“That’s why I am pleased to give my full backing to both East Devon and Mid Devon’s bids for levelling up funding.”

The Conservatives have previously rejected claims of underfunding, saying the Government is ‘delivering for people in Tiverton and Honiton and across the whole South West’.

Tory East Devon MP Simon Jupp is supporting a separate levelling-up bid to extend Exmouth’s Dinan Way – a project being led by Devon County Council.

The Government is expected to announce the successful bids in October.


Call for more powers for local government

The outgoing chief executive of Devon County Council says local authorities should be given more powers.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

Dr Phil Norrey is retiring after more than 16 years at the helm, making him the longest-serving chief executive in the council’s history.

Addressing members for the final time at a full council meeting on Thursday [21 July], Dr Norrey predicted that despite the current “state of flux,” local government will resume its “right and proper place in the commonwealth of this country.”

His departure comes as negotiations continue between the government and Devon’s councils – including Torbay and Plymouth – about gaining greater powers from Westminster.

Leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh and Wembury) provided an update on the talks at the meeting, saying that a ‘Great South West’ partnership could be formed involving Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset councils.

An exploratory meeting will be held next week but Cllr Hart suggested the government is still keen on devolution bids to involve new regional mayors – something Devon has flatly rejected.

Discussing how local politicians should be entrusted with more powers, Dr Norrey added: “I firmly believe that people should determine what happens to their communities, how resources are allocated, what the priorities are with a mandate given to them by the local electorate.”

“And actually, the role for central government in this country since the second world war has been one of aggregating powers unto itself and that process really needs to change. The world’s changed, it’s much more dynamic now, and all politics is local at the end of the day, isn’t it?

“But what I do know is that when that day comes; the culture, the foundation of this place will enable Devon County Council really to take advantage of that and to be the true leader it deserves to be. It is a leader but it’s got its hands tied behind its back at the moment.

He urged people listening who hold positions nationally to “unfetter people in local democratic positions and allow them to make the choices … because, to be honest, it’s not worked terribly well doing it the other way around, has it?”

“That’s not a party-political point. I’m talking over decades here, that central government doesn’t know best, does make mistakes, does duplicate, does overcomplicate, and doesn’t necessarily connect in the way that local government does. You [councillors] have got a direct connection!”

Dr Norrey described his time at county hall as a “privilege and a pleasure” during what he believed to be his 100th full council meeting as a senior officer.

“I’m hoping I’m going to retire 100 not out,” he quipped. “Some of you may think he’s retired hurt, but I don’t at all feel hurt. It’s been a very enjoyable innings. There have been some periods of stroke play but there’s been a lot of solid defence required, especially over the past few years.”

Among the several councillors to pay tribute was Cllr Hart, who has been leader for 13 years – working closely with Dr Norrey throughout.

“The last 13 years have been exemplary for me, because not only has this council run very smoothly, but it’s been [due to] your help to me and to the councillors.”

“All councillors owe you a lot, for your help, your persistence, your reliability, and also your knowledge and support – locally and nationally,” he added.

Dr Norrey is retiring at the end of August. Former county solicitor Jan Spicer (nee Shadbolt) will become interim chief executive until a permanent replacement is appointed.

East Devon Councillors commit to the protection of rare bats

From a Correspondent:

It is good news that the bats in Beer Quarry and Caves will now have their protected habitat status recognised by the planning officers in East Devon District Council. Even the East Devon Area of Natural Beauty is getting in on the act in their latest e-newsletter.

Cllr Jess Bailey (Ind, West Hill and Aylesbeare) wants to see even more action, including for bat protection to be included in every planning application. See Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk 

Why is all this necessary? There are laws to protect these species, if the LPA follow the directives and adhere to legislation, permission should be denied. It seems surprising that this should need to be formally recognised when bats are already protected.

Well, the residents of East Budleigh would agree to the need for more formal procedures in planning.  

At the same time as the Beer Quarry project, supported amongst others by Clinton Devon Estates (CDE), was being actively promoted, the bats of East Budleigh were threatened by a planning application, with consent given in 2019.

CDE submitted a planning application to demolish the barn behind the Pound which was believed to house 14 different species of bats. (A dead horseshoe bat was found in the area). Despite heroic efforts by residents the barn was allowed to be demolished and a dwelling built.  Despite “mitigation”, trees and hedges were removed, and a retrospective application allowed considerable light pollution from the new property. At a stroke the flight lines and foraging areas that the bats are so dependent upon were removed.

Both Cllrs Jess Bailey and Geoff Jung mentioned the need to protect “pinch points” flight routes in urban areas.

See: The fight to protect East Budleigh bats but no need to fight in beer