In the run up to the 2015 General Election, Freshwater’s healthcare team looks at the importance of the NHS as a political influencer…
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson once described the National Health Service (NHS) as the “closest thing the English have to a religion.” It is no surprise then that historically it has been an important factor in each General Election. But this year, the NHS may be more electorally important than ever before.
A recent ComRes poll for ITV News showed that the NHS is the top concern for voters – it is considered a greater priority than either immigration or the economy. Half of the people interviewed placed the NHS among their top three most important issues, which compares to 46% for immigration and 25% for the cost of living.
Each political party has started setting out their NHS policies but serious questions remain about their respective policy platforms. The NHS is facing unprecedented demands, with an ageing population and budget cuts. So far, the parties have shed partial light on their plans. But it’s still important to ask as the General Election draws closer what we know so far?
The Labour Party
Ed Miliband’s headline announcement at the Labour Party Conference 2014 was the ‘Time to Care Fund’, an extra investment of £2.5bn to pay for 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more care workers and 3,000 more midwives. The package would be funded by a combination of a mansion tax, a tax on tobacco firms and a crackdown on tax avoidance.
Since their conference, Labour has sketched out its health policies in more detail. Last week, Labour unveiled a ‘10-year plan for the NHS’, which prioritises investing in staff, integrating care from home to hospital, giving patients new rights to access care, improving mental health services, preventing ill health and restoring what it calls ‘the right values’ to the NHS.
Labour’s plans include creating a new branch of the NHS made up of 5,000 homecare workers to help those with the greatest need, ending 15-minute visits by care workers and also offering vulnerable older people safety checks to identify risks to their health. Labour’s other flagship policies include repealing the Health and Social Care Act and introducing a guarantee to provide GP appointments within 48 hours.
The Conservative Party
David Cameron’s principle argument about the NHS is that, in the words of one Conservative Party election poster: ‘A strong NHS needs a strong economy.’ The Conservatives are framing the debate as one that hinges on economic policy, in which the NHS can only thrive if there is a growing economy to support it. But at the same time, they have also announced some specific NHS policies. They have committed to increasing spending in real terms every year and also aim to give everyone access to a GP seven days a week by 2020.
In the Autumn Statement George Osborne unveiled £2billion of additional funding in 2015/16 for frontline NHS services, which includes £200million towards a ‘transformation fund’ to kick-start the NHS five year forward framework.
The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats have announced plans to increase NHS spending by £8 billion a year by 2020-21, which is the minimum amount of additional funding the NHS needs according to the NHS five year forward plan. The money would be generated from £2bn included in the Autumn Statement, another £1billion from higher earners and also investing the proceeds of economic growth once the deficit has closed.
The Liberal Democrats have placed mental health at the heart of their NHS policy. Nick Clegg has even said that mental health will be ‘on the front page of our manifesto’. The additional funding would go towards mental health, joining up health and social care and also preventing ill-health.
The NHS is facing growing pressures and politicians realise that voters are worried about it. As May draws closer, we will hear more debate and discussion about health in the UK. Each party knows that there are votes in convincing the public they can run a successful health service, but politicians also realise that they will have to come up with the right policy platform in order to steer the NHS through a difficult period.
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