The Greater Manchester Chambers of Commerce played host to another hustings on Thursday 2nd of March, which saw a modest fifty-odd people in attendance.
The most recent event in the race to be the region’s first elected mayor, gave the candidates of the three largest parties the opportunity to set out their priorities on the future of health and social care in the region.
Chaired by the Guardian’s North of England Correspondent, Nazia Parveen, the discussions focused on improving patient care, workforce and innovation.
There was a resounding agreement from all three candidates on prioritising prevention over cure; for Labour’s Andy Burnham, by way of boosting physical activity and vowing to invest 15 per cent of his mayoral salary to help the homeless, for Conservative candidate Sean Anstee, by make housing safer, and for Jane Brophy of the Liberal Democrats, by seeing the bigger picture of climate change, integrated policing and employment opportunities.
Though it was probably not what Antonis Papasolomontos of pharmaceutical company AbbVie wanted to hear, Burnham spoke of “empowering people to regain control of their health rather than thinking of themselves as patients who should be passive recipients of medicine”.
In view of the 23 per cent reduction in nursing applications since the removal of state-funded bursaries, Janine Dyson from the Royal College of Nursing flagged up the looming crisis of shrinking staff numbers and workforce morale. While Burnham thinks best “to keep profit out of health care” and proposed a deal of repaying loans to students who stay working in Greater Manchester, Brophy chose to focus on finding new ways of getting revenue, given that 5-7 per cent of those currently in training are from the EU.
The Liberal Democrat also recognised, in response to Tony Warne from the University of Salford, that leaving the EU is a big setback in terms of putting research at risk and stressed the need “to fight for funding”. But Anstee described his vision of Manchester as a “global power” — “I’m not in this race just to make up the numbers but to win it”.
Meanwhile Burnham pledged to “put young people at the heart” of his manifesto and drove home his wide-ranging parliamentary experience, but Brophy bit back by calling attention to her own frontline involvement with services, as life-long resident of the region and a carer herself: “Real problems need real solutions, not just the top-down that we’ve had for the last 30 years”.
Though the mood remained relatively calm for the most part of the evening, Burnham did take care to correct the “glossing over” of Anstee’s “positive narrative”, and was quick to reopen old wounds regarding the previous Department for Work and Pensions budget; “good start Sean but we need to see much more!”
I caught up with PPE student Charlie Spargo shortly after to hear his thoughts: “Andy Burnham was the clear winner of tonight’s hustings, though Sean Anstee also came out looking strong”.
“I was surprised, however, that the event, being focused on health and social care, was held far from any of the city’s hospitals and on an invitation-only basis, stifling what could have been an engaging discussion on what is probably the most important issue of the moment”.