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May's snap election is an opportunity to reset the NHS

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Here we go again. Two years since the last general election, the Prime Minister has announced another national ballot. I do not want to get into party politicking here, but suffice to say the stakes could not be higher for the NHS.

We are just emerging from a nail-biting winter, with reports of patients dying on trolleys and ambulances queueing at the gate of A&E. For general practice the column inches may be thinner, but we know the situation is equally bad. GP practice closures are at a record high, waiting times are up while overall numbers of GPs are falling. It is – to use an overused phrase – a perfect storm.

Theresa May likes to close down this debate by trumpeting the £10bn additional funding she has promised the health service in England, but this is spread over six years and has been comprehensively undermined by large cuts in other areas, such as training, social care and public health budgets. Looking closely at the actual numbers reveals that the amount spent per patient in the NHS will actually fall next year by 0.6%.

For once, all the experts agree, this is not enough. The election is likely to be dominated by Brexit, but it is crucial that it also sparks a national conversation about the future of the NHS.

Of course, this should be an open goal for Labour. Incredibly, the party went into the last election promising less of a funding boost for the NHS than the Conservatives, but much has changed since then. Its current leader Jeremy Corbyn has hinted he would be willing to spend more. He told the #ItsOurNHS march in March that: ‘The money’s there. Don’t let them tell you it isn’t.’

But Mr Corbyn is hardly on course for a landslide and whichever party (or parties) get into government is going to be faced with some difficult decisions on what the NHS can provide and what it can’t. What is most important is that politicians are forced to begin this debate pre- rather than post-election.

Ms May has stuck to the line that the health service has been given more than it asked for and will probably enter the election promising the status quo, or perhaps even something slightly more radical like removing the ringfence around the NHS budget and ‘merging’ it with social care (not inconceivable considering the current budget deficit, but a move that could result in even less funding for the health service). 

There are no easy answers here, but the public is not stupid. The PM needs to know that she has been very lucky to avoid a complete meltdown in services this winter, from a flu epidemic or the like. Now is the time for the health unions, pressure groups, think-tanks and – yes – the NHS itself to lead the debate and speak with one voice for a change in direction. The message has to be that the current situation is unsustainable, frequently unsafe and running a hair’s breadth away from potential disaster. The national conversation must be that a service that took years to build up and is the source of much national pride is basically running on its reserves of staff goodwill. A wellspring that is about to dry up.

The public need to be in no doubt that the future of the NHS is on the ballot paper on the 8 June and politicians of every stripe need to be challenged to come up with credible answers to the problems it is facing. The whole service needs a new settlement in England - and also in the other parts of the UK (under the Barnett formula). The status quo is not an option.

The next seven weeks are an unparalleled opportunity to reset the future of the NHS. Let the debate commence.

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse

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Readers' comments (9)

  • A bluewash will mean the end of the NHS.

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  • Which brings us to raising public awareness but how do you do it with Daily Mail suffering from severe nhs allergy syndrome? Status quo is certainly not an option but I'm not sure at times whether the public is not stupid - or is it too naïve?

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  • We live in a gerontocracy, and the Daily Mail will dragoon all the Ethels, Georges and Veras into giving Mrs May a stonking majority, then whine when the triple lock is abolished, social care is rationed to those with no more than £12.80 in the bank, and your average wait for a new hip is of the 1992 vintage. Bonkers.

    Still, at least we've got a country back. Problem is it's not worth having.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Slightly disappointed of the blockbusters released this year so far Logan, Kong, Ghost in the shell , Fate of the furious etc.(consider I am still in stupid La La Land mood ).They are good but not so good as being quite predictable.
    A more potentially unpredictable and 'entertaining' blockbuster struck the ground yesterday when Auntie May's announced a snap shot general election. Not entirely surprising but the timing is intriguing.
    She said she only 'recently and reluctantly' changed her mind and blamed the oppositions , Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat in dividing Westminster :
    Justifying the decision, Mrs May said: "The country is coming together but Westminster is not."
    She said the "division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit".

    The country is coming together , isn't it?How true you believe this is the case? Obviously, her telos is to
    win a bigger majorly in Westminster as another piece of her sustainability transformation plan(STP) of Brexit .
    This post Brexit general election will mean , however, differently to different voters , even amongst those who had voted for the same party in 2015. Brexit had created a whole new complex categories of voters : so called Remoaners and Bregretters on one hand versus true Brexiters (not sure how many Remains now believe in leaving EU).
    But clearly , a referendum is direct democracy on ONE and only one issue . General election is indirect democracy, as in line of representative politics , on MULTIPLE issues .
    All the domestic issues have been put aside due to the distraction of Brexit for at least two years(or more).
    The usual geopolitics in this country has been complicated by post Brexit psychology complexes, bearing in mind the two main parties, Conservative and Labour , are still well divided within themselves. Poor Tarzan got sacked without ever meeting his latest 'Jane'(at least he had own choice of walking away from his previous one's cabinet in 1986). A well known non MP Labour politician in Liverpool told me yesterday his party leader should be resoundingly defeated in this forthcoming election and that perhaps ,would be a better fortune for his party next five years.
    There are many issues which will govern the voting directions on 8/6/2017.
    The truth is the incoming government will have duties at three levels: political , legislative and moral responsibilities for Brexit and its consequences.The PM may like to think the legislations were all dealt with after the House of Lords failed to inflict any burden on passing the Brexit legislation with subsequent triggering of Article 50 a month ago . She would like to consider this snap election to be her opportunity to snatch a political stronghold of the parliament silencing all oppositions once and for all. At this moment of time , she is certainly not the 'chosen' one who can sit comfortably on the Iron Throne. She fears the oppositions no matter how feeble they appear to be(ironic that the U-turns seen in House of Commons , for instance , disability benefit changes and rise in class 4 national insurance,were actually down to oppositions from her own party backbenchers).
    Conquering your oppositions is far better than convincing them what is the 'right' thing to do. The ambition to have a majority of more than 12 seats as present standing , is beyond the boundary of Brexit. But the saying ,'be careful of what you wish, my dear' always echo in the background.
    The problem is moral responsibilities which circulate all the other 'multiple issues' coming along with Brexit : EU citizens who have proved themselves as valuable asset working in U.K. , money that should have been promised for NHS, rights of workers protected by current EU legislations , turning UK into a tax haven to confront EU if no 'good deal' is agreed .......

    Yes , all current polls in media support a lead of more than 20 points for the prime minister but remember her aim is to win a 'majority' , 50-100 seats more in House of Commons represent her real destination.
    If that is achieved, there is little the government can go even more right wing and as many have commented, health service will be on course to be privatised and we should be all packing our bags etc. The question is:this just an one sided story?
    Anything less than a majority of seats in HOC or the small but not entirely impossible outcome of another coalition government , will be labelled as a defeat to the PM.
    For those who represent us and the rest of medical professionals, this is the time for some serious thinking : just let the politics decide the future of NHS and general practice? Or at least , make it really difficult for Auntie May to win a majority of seats in HOC bearing in mind , many voters , though feeling really exhausted by the frequency of ballots in short space of time and how ugly 'things' had become around the referendum( Jo Cox should never be forgotten), still consider health and social care as an very important issue deep down. A health secretary carrying a baggage of over 220,000 votes of no confidence is a liability. A chief executive of NHS England ,with a five year vision feeling compelled to speak in public that the government was not providing enough money for him to do his job , is a dangerously flawed hypocrisy . A Tory chair of a health committee in House of Commons exposing the government lying about the real funding of NHS , is a true embarrassment to the credibility and honesty of Auntie May's party. If the prime minister thinks she can get away with a new manifesto with little mentioning of NHS for this coming election , this is a trigger point for a mass protest on the street right before 8/6/2017. The nurse union is already talking about a ballot of industrial action . Well, as I always say , doing the right thing at the right time at the right place. And do not forget the teachers and their representatives, similar appetite for 'actions' should bring forces together.
    Every event in history has an unique far reaching meaning .
    Love the latest TV series Supergirl. Here is a latest quote,''One wrong statistic about the stock market and suddenly we're in the Great Depression. One misattributed quote from a candidate, you put a fascist in a white house. The rules are there for a reason to make sure you get it right.''
    And what did Winston Churchill quote from Plutarch after losing the post war general election ?
    ''Ingratitude towards their great men is the mark of strong people.''

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  • Vinci Ho

    Correction:
    .....If that is achieved, there is little we can do and the government can go even more right wing and as many have commented.....

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  • Tory Government's only concerns are:

    1/ Winning the forthcoming election
    2/ Balancing the economy.

    There will be no more money for the NHS - the Govt's financial deficit is huge. If the Govt does not balance the economy they will lose future elections

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  • The government would actually love GPs to Resign. Taking primary care outside the NHS would help to financially balance the economy and the greedy GPs would be blamed. My personal opinion is that this is the only way to go. So what if the public loses respect for GPs. We have little enough already. The same applies to politicians, the legal profession... increasingly know one is being respected nowadays in this dog eat dog world.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Laura Kuenssberg's angle:
    Brexit deadline a specific factor in snap election move
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39636471

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  • So easy because all the problems of the NHS are due to an Evil Tory Plot.Would that we could raise the intellectual level of debate on health services above the level of the Infants School Playground.

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