'After fighting cancer, I know we must rescue our NHS'

MP Luke Pollard -Credit:Jon Corken/Scunthorpe Live
MP Luke Pollard -Credit:Jon Corken/Scunthorpe Live

No one expects to get cancer. So, it came as a shock when I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my face last year, Luke Pollard MP writes.

It is news no one wants to hear and it makes you worry. But the incredible support of NHS doctors and nurses made it so much more bearable. I have made a full recovery thanks to their incredible care.

My experience of cancer has reinforced my view that getting patients treated on time is one of the most important things any government must do.

Read more:

But now, cancer waiting times in England are the longest on record. A third of patients with cancer waited longer than they should have for life-saving treatment last year.

It is the same across the NHS. Over 7.5 million people in England are on an NHS waiting list, many forced to wait in pain for an operation.

Derriford Hospital is under real strain, with five Critical Incidents already this year. None of this is the fault of NHS staff. I blame Government Ministers. Sticking plaster politics won’t solve the crisis in the NHS.

The government tells us that this is all about COVID. But what they don’t tell us is that NHS waiting lists were already at record highs before the pandemic. Waits for cancer treatment have got worse each year for the past 11 years. Nearly 100,000 people waited longer than they should have for cancer treatment last year.

We need to get patients seen on time again. The government must end the delays to building the new Emergency Department extension at Derriford. We have had all the soundbites and promises: they now must start construction in earnest. This must be a priority.

In Plymouth, we also need a plan the whole city can get behind to support Derriford, to rescue primary care and NHS dentistry.

Step one: we need to clear the NHS backlog. I’m backing the plan set out by Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, to clear waiting lists by using under-utilised capacity in the NHS and independent sector. We’ll pay NHS staff overtime to run longer clinics and see more people.

Step two: we need to recruit and retain more NHS staff. That means recognising the incredible efforts made by NHS staff and treating them with respect. The industrial action taken by junior doctors is a reminder that claps and warm words from Ministers do not pay the bills.

Step three: we need to reform primary care. I have been campaigning for a new Health Village in Plymouth city centre - new NHS services on the high street to reduce the pressure on Derriford. My vision is for more GP, testing and NHS dentistry services in the city centre.

I am delighted that construction will soon get underway on the first part of the health village, the Community Diagnostics Centre. I am working with the City Council on a new hub for GPs and NHS dentistry, too.

Beyond that, we need to speed up discharges from hospital by fixing social care.

Like so many people, the NHS saved my life. I am deeply proud of our health service. But after 14 years in power, the Conservatives have left it in a mess.

It is time to get patients seen on time again. It is time for change.