I spent Tuesday afternoon and evening mostly in the company of Frank Dobson MP, in a public meeting in Hayle about Cornwall’s NHS and a members’ meeting fundraising for a local Day Centre.
What a privilege. What a genuine, caring, hard working socialist and a good friend to Cornwall.
Frank was keen to come to Cornwall again, continuing his support over the years to local Labour campaigners and especially to our dynamic candidate Michael Foster.
Over the course of today, he showed that his knowledge of and concern for Cornwall’s unique health needs and issues has not faded over the years since he was Labour’s Secretary of State for Health in 1997 -98.
As the Minister for Health, Frank reversed the Conservatives’ decision to close four of Cornwall’s community hospitals, he made sure that we had a Health Action Zone to put more money into the areas where health needs were greatest, he introduced NHS Direct, which was great for people who could not always get to a GP easily and which has since been dismantled by the Lib Dem/Tory Coalition government and he abolished the NHS internal market introduced by Ken Clark during the previous years of Tory government.
And in 2011, when Labour members in Cornwall collected signatures to force a discussion on the hiving off of those same community hospitals to a community interest company outside the NHS, Frank was here to help present the petition and flag up the risks of outsourcing. That company is now trying to get back in to the NHS family before the hospitals are put out to tender again and possibly snatched up by a private company.
We were all pleased to have Frank confirm that the next Labour government will repeal the part of the Health and Social Care Act that is forcing contracting out, fragmentation and privatisation of our NHS, saving billions of pounds in the process that would be better invested in health care. But with the reservation that the last thing needed is another re-organisation and it should be done without interfering again in the structures of the NHS.
Concern for the NHS was a topical issue yesterday as the hospitals trust, based at Treliske, issued a black alert that continues today, having difficulty discharging people or admitting people. Cuts to community beds, cuts to social care, over committed GPs, our fragmented system and problems with hard pressed staff all putting the hospitals under unbearable strain. This is obviously a bigger problem for people in Cornwall than most other places in the country as we have no alternative in easy reach.
Frank Dobson is retiring from Parliament in May but has lost none of his passion for politics and for campaigning for the many, not the privileged few. He told members that we might just now be learning what one subsidiary company of HSBC is up to but HSBC has hundreds more subsidiary companies based in other countries and between them, our banks have around 1600 of these companies, which are closed books to those of us who work hard and pay our taxes. It was clear how strongly he felt about injustice, inequality and those who cheat the system.
It was a great privilege to spend this time with Frank. He has given a lot of thought to our most valued public service, to the needs of Cornwall and to the future of our country. He will be a loss to Parliament when he stands down in May but I hope he has a long and happy retirement with his family, he certainly deserves it.