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he economic consequences of Cameron's austerity are catching up with us. We had to curb the deficit and debt in a more measured manner but it's now time, in the age of low interest rates, to judiciously and justly invest to better protect our national and personal security.

Two examples come to mind. The first, exposed by a parliamentary question from me, is the farcical proposal to allow volunteers to police thousands of miles of our coastline, and small air and sea ports.

What was then dubbed a Dad's Army is supposed to help stop immigrants, terrorists and criminals entering the country illegally but they won't even have the power of arrest. I am particularly concerned that those who fought in Syria and Iraq with the fascist death cult Isis could return undetected and endanger our safety. We have to know if they do and stop the smuggling of drugs and weapons. We need fully-trained staff who have been properly vetted too.

The proposal flows from the dismissal of hundreds of border officers in recent years. We rightly expect our government to plan better and fix gaps in our vital security. The shortfall should not have been a surprise.

And nor should the current crisis in the NHS. After all, we often have a winter crisis as thousands succumb in bad weather to flu. But this one was several years in the making and is worse than normal.

Senior medical emergency experts have told the Prime Minister that severe and chronic underfunding is causing the crisis in A&E. We see too many patients having to wait for hours in overcrowded A&Es, thousands waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors or in ambulances that cannot then go out on calls. The four hour A&E target and the 62-day cancer treatment target have not been met since 2015.

Thousands of routine operations have been postponed which means people being marooned as they wait for hip or knee operations and in some cases deteriorating further or even dying before their time. And hospitals are facing huge financial problems.

It has also become harder to see a GP, with one in four people waiting a week or more to see or speak to somebody. GP numbers have fallen by
1,000 since Theresa May became Prime Minister. Underfunded adult social care is in crisis and this increases congestion in our hospital wards. This flows from consistent under-funding of the NHS and a refusal in the last budget to provide what the NHS experts said was necessary.

Alan Milburn,  the former Darlington MP and health secretary says advances in genomics could mean the NHS moving from just diagnosing and treating illness to preventing it and enabling individuals to take greater control over our health. He rightly says that the job of government is to provide the resources and reforms that will enable the NHS to harness new technologies and methods for the common good.

This requires a long-term funding settlement for health and social care but the question is how. I will continue to argue we need to maximise the tax take to fund all public services by ensuring that big business pays its fair whack by further eliminating avoidance and evasion.

People in different parties are coalescing around the idea of a dedicated NHS tax, maybe making national insurance payments into a hypothecated national health insurance. The logic is that this encourages us all to have a conversation with consequences. If we want to make sure our health service copes with demand and becomes more integrated we should will the means to those ends by more clearly agreeing how much money we invest.

We surely cannot allow the NHS to deteriorate further. The best consequence of the current winter health crisis should be a wake up call to preserve the popular principle of health care free at the point of use in a rapidly changing society.
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