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NHS waiting times front and centre of Ribble Valley election hustings

Posted on - 26th June, 2024 - 9:08am | Author - | Posted in - Bamber Bridge, Broughton, Fulwood, Grimsargh, Longridge, Politics, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, Walton-le-Dale
Candidates await the start of the Ribble Valley hustings in Ribchester. Left to right: Qasim Ajmi (independent); Maya Ellis (Labour); Caroline Montague (Greens); chairman, Rev Philip North; Nigel Evans (Conservative); and John Potter (Liberal Democrats). Pic credit: Blog Preston.

NHS waiting times, water quality and even county lines drug gangs were all on the agenda for Ribble Valley election candidates at the Ribchester hustings.

Held at St Wilfrid’s church on Tuesday evening (25 June), the lively event was chaired the Rev Philip North, the Bishop of Blackburn.

It saw Nigel Evans, who has held the Ribble Valley seat for the past 32 years for the Conservatives, up against four of his five potential opponents. Maya Ellis represented Labour, John Potter the Liberal Democrats, Caroline Montague the Greens, and Qasim Ajmi is standing as an independent.

Read more: Constituency boundaries and candidates in the general election in and around Preston

John Carroll, the Reform candidate, did not attend.

And it was the issue of NHS waiting times that got proceedings off to an impassioned start, with a question from Jane Bentley asking the candidates how it could ever be acceptable that patients, such as her own mother, were waiting for treatment in hospitals for days on end, often in accident and emergency (A&E) corridors.

First to answer was Mr Evans, who apologised for the ordeal Ms Bentley’s mother had endured at the Royal Blackburn Hospital, but went onto claim that many of the problems in the NHS were due to the inefficient way in which money was being spent and where it was being prioritised.

Ms Montague said the Green Party would tackle the issue of NHS funding with a tax on the super rich, which would enable them to pump £20 billion into health and social care over the next five years.

For Ms Ellis, Labour’s pledge to recruit 40,000 new NHS employees in their first year in power, if elected, was a key area of focus, as was the need to allocate resources in the proper manner to enable efficiencies to be achieved within A&E departments.

Mr Potter added: “The NHS is front and centre of this election and a lot of my family [who work in the NHS] have never seen it this bad.

“[NHS] staff should not have to keep pulling it back from the brink like they do time after time.”

Mr Ajmi, who has worked in the NHS for many years, said reforming and reinvigorating the health service was at the core of his campaign.

Read more: See all our general election coverage so far

The debate provoked several comments from the audience, with a retired senior consultant saying the problem was partly due to NHS staff not having the ability to feedback concerns to MPs, while another audience member demanded to know where the supposed £350 million-a-week NHS Brexit dividend had gone.

On this, Mr Evans claimed: “There is more than £350m-a-week going in to the NHS, but it is not just about pouring money in to it. It is about how it is spent.”

However, it was an audience member who drew the biggest support from fellow attendees when he implored the panel, and politicians in general, to ‘stop using the NHS as a political football’.

“Get your heads together and get it sorted,” he added, to widespread applause.

Good numbers attended the hustings at St Wilfrid’s church. Pic credit: Blog Preston.

Next on the agenda was water quality, sewage being dumped into rivers and whether water companies could be held to account.

Ms Montague called for water companies to be nationalised; Mr Ajmi called for stricter penalties for companies that allowed sewage to be leaked into rivers; and Mr Potter suggested that any water firm which was found flouting pollution rules should have shareholder and director dividends withheld.

Ms Ellis added: “It is about how we hold these companies to account and take a firm approach towards them. While it is not a party policy for Labour, we could then work towards nationalisation [of the water companies].”

And it was this issue of nationalisation that pitted an indignant Mr Evans against his fellow candidates.

He said: “If you think state ownership is the answer, just think back to the 1960s and 1970s. Things are way better now, but we have to make sure we have proper control.”

In what was an informative, if not fiery debate, other questions to candidates included what their views were on the Assisted Dying Bill, with Mr Evans opposed to it, Mr Potter and Ms Montague supporting it, and Ms Ellis and Mr Ajmi saying it came down to personal choice and what was right for an individual.

They were also asked why, according to one audience member, middle class drug use was fuelling an epidemic of substance and alcohol abuse in the Ribble Valley which now meant, allegedly, that Clitheroe was the fifth easiest town in which to source drugs.

On this, all agreed that greater police resources were a must, with seemingly widespread agreement that preventative action for drug users was key, as well investing in assets such as youth services to ensure youngsters did not drift towards drug use from an early age.

While other issues such as the state of the Royal Mail and student tuition fees prompted a range of responses, Rev North ended the night asking the candidates what they believed their constituents could do to keep supporting MPs or local political representatives.

On this they did agree, with all candidates urging constituents to engage with MPs, tell them their concerns and avoid apathy when it came to local issues.

And with that, with just over a week to go until the 4 July election, the candidates departed for the final campaign push.

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