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The NHS cannot be pushed to the margins this election

Theresa May, despite repeatedly telling the British public there will be no snap election before 2020, has opted for a snap general election on 8 June. People don’t want it, the press isn’t demanding it, there is no constitutional need. The only reason Mrs May thinks this is a good time is that it will strengthen her own position in the party and crush the opposition.

Although the election will be fought largely on Brexit, the NHS will play a significant role in people’s mind when they cast their vote. Let’s make sure the NHS is not pushed to the margins by the focus on Brexit. 

Theresa May has shown no sign of confronting the NHS crisis as Prime Minister. By re-appointing Jeremy Hunt as health secretary, she signaled that she endorsed the imposition of an unfair, unsafe, junior doctors’ contract, an unaffordable seven-day NHS, that she doesn’t want to address the rock bottom NHS family morale or the decline in general practice and that she would press ahead with an ideologically driven privatisation of an unsafe, underfunded NHS. The election is an invitation to voters to buy Mrs May’s agenda of dismantling the NHS in general and general practice in particular.

The very existence of the NHS is at stake. Another five years of starving the NHS of resources and required funding will reduce our health and social care services to a third world service for poor people. This election more than Brexit should focus on redefining the future of the NHS. As Pulse editor Nigel Praities put it: ‘The next seven weeks are an unparalleled opportunity to reset the future of the NHS’.

A record 62% of voters now expect our NHS to fall into ruin. The scale of the challenge that the NHS is now facing is unprecedented – rising demand coupled with economic pressures are creating difficult-to-manage situations that are putting patient care at risk. The NHS performance is at a breaking point, though not yet collapsing due to the sheer determination and good will of its workforce. NHS finances are as bad as in the 1980s and 1990s, and overall productivity is falling. All three major parties lack a bold narrative on the way forward for the health service.

The NHS has already been seriously damaged by the policies of all three major political parties in the past decade. If this continues, England will have a completely different healthcare system in five years’ time – ‘NHS’ in name alone. Things will be much worse in terms of access, equity, health outcomes and cost. But only if we continue to tolerate the ideological policies of commercialisation and privatisation in healthcare. The NHS will just be a logo; a once-cherished institution reduced from being the main provider of health services in England, with one of the biggest workforces in the world, to an increasingly fragmented, increasingly privatised service. Today’s wounded NHS is now scarcely able to make the changes it needs to make. Because today’s NHS is on the wrong path, a fast track to fragmentation and marketisation. This election must not write a blank cheque over the future of the NHS.

The British public and the NHS family deserves nothing less than a well-financed and functional NHS with happy and productive staff. Put crippled NHS and wounded general practice at the heart of the general election.