An Oxford University lecturer will stand for Parliament in May, prompted by a desire to “speak out against the destruction of the NHS”.
Dr Helen Salisbury is currently a lecturer in Communication Skills at the University’s Nuffield Department of Health Sciences, as well as a GP. In May, her name will appear on the ballot as the National Health Action (NHA) Party’s candidate in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency.
Dr Salisbury told The Oxford Student that she is “deeply committed to the founding ideals of the NHS”, and that she originally became involved with the NHA Party because she “could see that the NHS was under threat” from reforms by the coalition government, which she described as “wasteful and destructive”.
Before being asked in November, Dr Salisbury had not considered standing as a candidate: “I see myself as a doctor and a teacher rather than a politician but when I was asked to stand it seemed like the most effective way to speak out against the destruction of the NHS so I ought to say yes.”
Dr Salisbury also expressed optimism for her chances in the election, calling May’s poll in Oxford West and Abingdon “wide open” and promising to “bring a fresh perspective to politics, a respect for evidence rather than ideology and a minimum of party baggage”.
In 2010, the seat was the eleventh most marginal in the country, when the current Conservative MP, Nicola Blackwood, defeated the incumbent Liberal Democrat, Evan Harris, by just 176 votes.
The NHS is set to be a major issue in the 2015 election following health reforms by the coalition government, including the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, as well as reports of missed performance targets. On 6th January, it was reported that A&E waiting times in England are the worst for a decade.
Sally Copley, the Labour candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, said she is “from a family of NHS workers” and is “completely opposed to privatisation of the NHS”.
Copley continued: “Labour has already committed to much needed additional spending on the NHS, part funded by a mansion tax of course, as well as to repealing the dreadful Health and Social Care Act.”
Copley went on to describe Labour as “the only party contending [Oxford West and Abingdon] with a clear change of forming the next Government”, and urged voters to “send a real message to the coalition … about the NHS” by voting Labour.
The National Health Action Party was founded in 2012 by a number of former doctors.
The Party aims to repeal the 2012 Health and Social Act, roll back what it describes as the “privatisation” of the NHS, and to reduce reliance on management consultants within NHS decision-making, instead involving patients and staff.
Liberal Democrat candidate Layla Moran did not defend the coalition’s health record, instead insisting that she has been “very vocal in my criticism of the NHS reforms in this Parliament” and is “worried for its future”.
If elected in May, Moran promised to “work to ensure the NHS remains about quality of care and not profit”.
She continued: “By any reading of the polls, I, as the Liberal Democrat candidate, am the only contender to the Conservatives [in Oxford West and Abingdon]. If people are worried about a Tory government or, even worse, a Tory-UKIP coalition, the best thing they can do is reduce the number of Tories in Parliament.”
Nicola Blackwood, Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, was unavailable for comment.
Mark Smyth, co-chair of the university’s Liberal Democrat Society, defended the coalition’s record on the NHS: “The NHS is currently undergoing much needed and necessary change in order to remain effective in the face of 21st century health challenges. Part of our response to this is to ensure an £8 billion budget rise to allow the NHS the tools it needs.
“We’re also proud to have legislated for the treatment of mental and physical health to be regarded equally and are working to improve mental health services, which have been neglected for decades.”
However, David Cesar-Heymann, co-chair of the university’s Labour Society, commented: “The last week alone has shown how the current coalition has created a crisis in the NHS.
“With indiscriminate cuts and a 3 billion pound ideologically driven reorganisation, people are now waiting for over ten hours in A&E. It now takes weeks to get a GP appointment. It is understandable that people are mobilizing around the issue of the NHS.”
Cesar-Heymann went on to dismiss the NHA as a “protest party”, instead urging voters to “elect a Labour government that will put 2.5 billion more a year into the NHS and guarantee people can see their GPs in less than 48 hours”.
The President of OUCA could not be reached for comment.