Scores of people attended a lively hustings organised by Protect Our NHS which gave people in Kingswood the chance to meet and debate the future of the health service with the Parliamentary candidates.
Sharing the platform at Kingswood Community Centre last night were Chris Skidmore (Conservative), Jo McCarron (Labour), Adam Boyden (Lib Dem), Duncan Odgers (UKIP), Richard Worth (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – TUSC), Cezara Nanu (Green Party) and Liam Bryan (Vapers in Power).
Julie Lake, the British National Party candidate, had been invited but the organisers say they did not have a reply from her.
The meeting was chaired by retired GP Dr Charlotte Paterson, who is a member of Protect Our NHS.
There were questions about the level of privatisation in the health service, the TTIP treaty (Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership) and how it might affect the NHS, whether Trident should be scrapped to free up money for the NHS, and the ongoing delay to the opening of Cossham Hospital’s minor injuries unit.
On the issue of privatisation, Mr Skidmore pledged: “We will never get rid of the NHS” and that it would be kept free at the point of delivery.”
But Jo McCarron said the Conservatives were creeping towards complete privatisation of the service.
Richard Worth pointed out that the first PFI (Private Finance Initiative) hospital building contracts were signed under Labour. (PFIs involve repayments over a long-time scale at a high rate of interest.)
He said it was said it was “time to renationalise the NHS”.
There was also a question from the audience about the panel’s views on migration and the NHS.
Mr Skidmore, who in 2011 carried out an investigation into the high level of unpaid bills from foreign tourists who have treatment during their visit, said ours was a national health service, not an international one, and as it was tax funded, it needed to be for taxpayers first.
Duncan Odgers said UKIP did not have an issue with migration for skilled workers but added that the country was “asset stripping someone else’s to prop up our own”.
Adam Boyden said he was “sick of the right-wing tabloid press having a go at immigrants who help our country”.
Jo McCarron said the NHS would not work without migrants and although there had to be some control on immigration, the largely Tory-led media and UKIP were divisive and unhelpful on the matter.
Richard Worth said there were not enough doctors and nurses and there were low paid migrants working in the NHS who TUSC wanted to see on union rates.
Liam Bryan, whose party is raising political and public awareness about vaping and its benefit to smokers and how the EU wants to ban electronic cigarettes, said he was all for migration while Cezara Nanu pointed out that she was a migrant who had chosen to make the UK her home.