By Dr Elizabeth Peretz

WE are all proud of the NHS. We depend on it. Every major political party says it will defend it when they ask us to vote for them.

But, under the present government, it seems to be in constant crisis, amid horror stories of A & E trolley waits and old people sent home from hospital without care to keep them safe.

Oxfordshire health statistics are beginning to highlights cracks.

In the last few years, the gap between life expectancy of the rich and the poor has widened for the first time in 70 years, to almost 12 years' difference for men, according to county council data.

This should be a time for alarm, increases in staff, an injection of life and concern into our health and wellbeing.

Instead, starved of cash, our hospitals and GPs are planning hospital closures, reducing bed numbers and widely spaced GP ‘hubs’, to replace local surgeries.

All these ‘cuts’ are bewilderingly labelled as 'progress' by the various NHS and council managers, who talk about ‘integration’ of services, ‘prevention’, and ‘care closer to home’ as if those are new ideas. They say very little about who will provide the ‘care closer to home.

I worked as a manager in the NHS and council social services from the 1980s.

On my watch, I saw some great services grow, only to be dismantled in the cuts: a ‘good neighbour' scheme, where people across Oxfordshire could earn a little if they helped out frail or vulnerable people in their community; a scheme where carers (council employees) worked directly with district nurses to keep people safe in their own homes; a wonderful county-wide service of community teams (with beds for respite) for older people with dementia, run jointly between the old age psychiatrists and social workers.

All of these brilliant schemes were run through co-operation between the NHS and the county and district council staff. All were hit by the devastating funding cuts.

Since I retired I have campaigned with Keep Our NHS Public in Oxfordshire, and have watched things deteriorate further.

I have had time to look into why this is happening, and have concluded that successive governments have starved the NHS and social care of funds.

They drain what money there is into private companies, who are making profits out of the health services through building hospitals which we pay them back for (PFI will have cost Oxfordshire £2.3b overall, although the actual building cost was only £300m), courtesy of costly contracts, and through ‘profit’ margins firms like VirginCare or CareUK expect to make from running parts of our service. Each time we 'sub contract’ a service, like physiotherapy to HealthShare, we ‘dis’ integrate the connection between the professionals who care for us. All this is funded by the taxes we pay; shouldn’t we have a say in where it goes?

There are many private firms just waiting to take over. A firm is currently doing a ‘pilot’ in Abingdon and Wallingford to 'set up a good neighbour’ scheme - for a mere £100,000.

As a campaigner, I’d say it is high time we pulled everything back in house, demanded proper government funding, trained and cherished our health and social care staff, listened to their solutions, and patients’ solutions, for a health and social care service that is joined up, local, and works for all of us.

People say we can’t afford to pay for the NHS - I’d say we can’t afford not to - both on moral and practical grounds.

We need a healthy workforce, we need healthy, informal carers, we need to be supported to keep healthy. Everyone benefits. We are justly proud of our NHS. Lets look after it.