This article was published in The National this week: Doctor Louise Irvine bids to protect the NHS by unseating Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
AS the NHS in England lurches to far greater crises than even the NHS in Scotland, a Scottish doctor has helped found a new political party that aims to protect the health service south of the Border.
Paisley-born Dr Louise Irvine, a GP at Amersham Vale in London, is taking the fight directly to the Tories by standing against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in his Surrey constituency in the General Election.
With Ukip also standing in the constituency, and with the Liberal Democrats in disarray, Irvine is hoping that the National Health Action Party (NHAP) can register a big success against Hunt, whose 16,000 majority would usually seem impregnable.
The Health Secretary increased his majority with an eight per cent swing at the last election, but his elevation to the upper ranks of the Cabinet has seen him take the flak for the crisis in the NHS, hence the NHAP’s decision to stand against him.
Irvine, who was educated at Aberdeen University and was a member of the Scottish Medical Aid for Nicaragua mission in 1984, is one of 13 candidates for the NHAP at the General Election.
Speaking after the official launch of their campaign, Irvine said: “The NHS has been brought to its knees. It’s really in crisis.
“Everywhere we look, whether it’s A& E performance, whether it’s longer delays for treatment, longer waits to see GPs, or lack of mental health beds across the country, these are the worst times ever for the NHS and I think it’s quite right to say there is a crisis.
“The NHS is the thing which makes most people proud to be British, but I don’t think it can be trusted to David Cameron. He has not protected the NHS budget, as we have seen £20 billion worth of cuts in England dressed up as efficiency savings over the last four years with another £30bn to come.
“He makes promises he doesn’t keep. He said there would be no top-down reorganisation but he has brought in the biggest reorganisation ever, which has been a major distraction and a waste of money.
“If the last few months are anything to go by, and the next five years are going to be the same, then we are going to see a worsening of the crisis in the NHS.
“My fear is that it is not just the NHS in England that will suffer – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could also be hit as overall government funding is cut.”
Irvine, 57, who is married to a consultant paediatrician and has two children, is a fierce critic of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which she fears could lead to further privatisation of the health service.
She said: “It could make privatisation irreversible as governments could be sued in the courts if they were to change the laws.”
It’s not just Cameron and the Tories who have attracted Irvine’s fire. She said: “I believe we need to challenge all the main parties on their health agenda. None of the parties is facing up to the real funding crisis facing the NHS.
“None of them are prepared to spend the money which is going to be needed to meet the legitimate demands of our growing population, and none of them have committed completely to reversing the privatisation which is also wasting resources.”
However, it is the Coalition Government that most attracts her ire. She said: “What they are saying is full of lies. They cannot be honest at all about the future of the NHS and they do not have any strategy for tackling the future needs of the NHS.”
Irvine has already gained two substantial victories over Jeremy Hunt. In his capacity as Health Secretary, Hunt authorised the closure of services and departments at Lewisham Hospital, prompting a huge campaign against the cuts that brought Irvine to the political forefront in that part of London.
“I’ve been a GP in Lewisham in south-east London for 25 years,” she said. “As chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign I helped save our local hospital from closure.
“We organised an amazing community campaign that brought together people from all walks of life to defend our local health services. We took the government to court to challenge its decision to close Lewisham Hospital and we won – and we won again in the Court of Appeal.
“I’ve faced Jeremy Hunt in the courts – and beaten him twice. Now I’ll face him at the ballot box.
“He needs to be held to account for the way in which he and his government have bulldozed democracy, changing the law to push through hospital closures when he was beaten in court and launching a massive, wasteful and damaging reorganisation of the NHS without any popular mandate.
“I look forward to a debate with the Health Secretary about the future of our NHS.”