LAST month our local NHS hit the headlines after a leaked memo suggested the Churchill Hospital in Oxford may have to ration rounds of chemotherapy as they couldn’t recruit enough specialist nursing staff.

When I spoke to the hospital trust’s bosses they assured me this was just an idea a clinician was exploring not something they were enacting – but it’s clearly concerning that the NHS is having to think about how they might ration treatments or services because they might not have the right people to do the job. The head of nursing was clear that there were three main drivers of this crisis: NHS underfunding, the cut to nursing bursaries and professional development, and the cost of living in Oxfordshire.

We cannot and should not allow this situation to continue unchecked, so this week I’ve secured a debate on ‘the recruitment and retention of NHS in staff in Oxfordshire’. We need some answers from the Government about what they are going to do about it.

First, as the Lib Dems have said for many years now, the Government urgently needs to fund our health and social care systems properly – and crucially be clear how we will pay for it. During the election, we proposed a penny in the pound on income tax and a long-term cross-party commission to ensure all parties stop using the NHS funding as a political football. Labour have ruled this option out which is a real shame, but I still believe this should be one of our top priorities. The result is a lack of beds, rationed equipment and not enough money in social care. This is greatly increasing the stress of the job causing many who consider it a vocation to leave, and those who want to join to think twice.

Looking at nursing again, last summer Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust had around 400 vacancies for nursing positions that they were struggling to fill. Like everything else, there’s a Brexit effect with EU citizens either leaving the UK or not coming in the first place. This is also the second year in a row that applications to study nursing have fallen, with government targets nowhere near being met. Sadly, it was all too predictable given the Conservatives have cut vital bursaries for student nurses.

And finally, there is the cost of housing. Lifting the pay cap is not enough, though it would help. So during the debate I’ll be calling for an ‘Oxfordshire housing allowance’ for key workers or a keyworker scheme that is far more wide reaching. They will tell me it’s up to local councils and the Department for Communities, Local Government and Housing. I’ll tell them take responsibility by leading some joined up thinking. It is no one’s interest to keep passing the buck.

Anyone who has used the NHS at any level locally will know just what an outstanding job the staff are doing in extremely difficult conditions. We owe it to them to give them a decent wage; the support they need to train and develop their careers; and to provide the resources they need to do their jobs properly.