23 Sep 2014

Time to start talking about the NHS?

Despite what many people think, the NHS is not always a big election issue. It wasn’t last time – probably because everybody knew there was not going to be much money around and so promises were necessarily few on the ground.


The election before that, Labour had put in extra money and it was generally going well – give or take a row over GP appointment times.

But next year’s election, it looks set to be high up there with the economy, fuelled by winter A&E crises that seem to now go on throughout the four seasons, an increase in waiting times, including for cancer, and growing deficits.

And today we saw the first party out of the starting box with a promise to save the NHS. Ed Miliband has promised 20,000 more nurses, 3,000 more midwives, 8,000 more GPs and 5,000 more homecare workers.

This will be paid for out of a mansion tax, a crackdown on tax avoidance, and a windfall tax on the profits of UK tobacco companies.  All amounting to £2.5bn.

Read more: Ed Miliband puts NHS centre stage in election campaign

They are calling it “time to care”, which incorporates the idea that if the public and politicians do not care, the health service will fail under the Tories; and by providing more staff, it gives time for them to care because they will be greater in number.  The £2.5bn will be paid out of a “time to care” fund.

Apart from this, Mr Miliband’s speech was light on detail. More will come with the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham’s speech on Wednesday.

It was generally welcomed by the royal colleges and medical unions as a step in the right direction. But everybody acknowledges that it will not resolve the overall funding crisis: an expected £2bn shortfall in 2015/16 and a £30bn funding gap by the end of the decade.

So it will now be interesting to see how the Conservatives and Lib Dems rise to the challenge.

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