The 360: Who can you trust to take care of the NHS?

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening?

With the general election campaign in full flow, the major parties are focusing on a wide range of issues - not just Brexit - to win over voters.

Labour is focusing many of its attack lines on the NHS, and understandably so. It is one of the issues that resonates most powerfully - and emotively - with the public. In fact, according to one measurement of voter sentiment, it is the second most important issue that will inform how Brits will vote, after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

And with Labour’s stance on Brexit deemed confusing by many, Jeremy Corbyn is hoping to put the NHS as close to the centre of the campaign before people go to the polls on 12 December.

Why there’s debate

Labour says it is historically the party of the NHS; the Conservatives point to their years in charge of the health service as why they are responsible guardians.

Mr Corbyn’s pitch to the public is that the Tories aren’t taking care of something so treasured. For example, Labour has released figures showing 80,000 operations were cancelled in 2018 because of staff shortages or equipment failure under a Tory government.

It has also emerged that A&E waiting times in England have slipped to their worst ever levels.

Labour says it wants to “end privatisation in our NHS, give it the funding it needs and give it the doctors, the nurses, the GPs and all the other staff that it needs”.

In terms of funding, Labour has proposed a £26 billion real-terms – £40 billion in cash terms – healthcare funding boost.

In recent weeks, Mr Corbyn has also repeatedly claimed that Mr Johnson will ‘sell off’ the NHS in a Brexit trade deal with the US, allowing big US pharma companies to sell their drugs for inflated prices.

Unfortunately for Labour, that message doesn’t appear to be hitting home, with one recent poll showing that voters actually trust Mr Johnson more on the issue than Mr Corbyn.

That’s despite the now infamous - and debunked - claim from Mr Johnson that leaving the EU could mean an extra £350m a week. More recently Mr Johnson has also been accused of massaging the truth when he said he would build an extra 40 new hospitals - which turned out to be six.

The Tories can point to the healthcare cash boost announced by former Prime Minister Theresa May, who announced an extra £20bn a year by 2023 for the NHS.

However one area where Mr Johnson’s personal authority is lacking is on the issue of public services more generally. A recent poll shows that 65% of people think he is doing a bad job on public services (including the NHS), compared to 27% who think he is doing a good job.

What’s next?

Health is traditionally a strong ground for Labour, but with polling suggesting Mr Johnson is more trusted, manifestos will play a key role into how this informs voter behaviour.

And the timing of the election could be crucial - with a winter poll potentially putting the Tories at risk of losing ground if there is a seasonal health crisis.

And Mr Johnson’s denials about the NHS being part of any trade deal with the US may yet prove to be a key factor in the election - depending on whether he is trusted or not.

Perspectives

Labour scrapping private services may harm patients.

“Labour is committed to bringing privately run services back into the NHS. Routine tendering of service contracts has failed, plaguing the NHS with high legal costs, inflexible contracts and poorly joined up services, while often destabilising NHS organisations who lost the business. But one dogma should not be replaced by another. If quality will be harmed by bringing a service back in-house, that is a disservice to patients.” - Richard Vize, The Guardian

Jeremy Corbyn wants to stop companies putting profiteering before need.

“Corbyn is saying that he is willing to use the legal mechanisms at his disposal to stop big pharma from putting profiteering before need. And he’s promising to help developing countries, who face phenomenal bullying from industry, to do the same... Corbyn has pledged that conditions should be attached to public funding that require drugs based on publicly-funded research to be affordable and accessible.” - Nick Dearden, The Independent

Boris Johnson’s commitment to science is important.

“If the Prime Minister prioritises cancer prevention, he can protect future generations, while saving the NHS time and money. Progress on all these fronts relies on one thing: great science. It’s what builds the evidence for us, and Government, to save lives. Thanks to research, cancer survival in the UK has doubled since the 1970s, so today half of all people diagnosed with cancer survive. That’s why I fully support the Prime Minister’s commitment to UK science. And as Brexit discussions continue, science must be front and centre in our future relationship with the EU.” - Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK

The PM’s plan to build new hospitals is not the ultimate solution.

“New buildings look nice and are popular, but what the NHS needs is a plan for capital investment as a whole. As capital spending has been cut, the backlog of maintenance for hospitals across the country has ballooned. This covers lots of unsexy but essential spending on painting windows so they don’t rot, fixing lifts so patients can get from wards to theatres on time, and upgrading IT so doctors can access blood test results and X-ray scans. Without this core investment, money is wasted and care quality suffers.” - Anita Charlesworth, Financial Times

The Tories will always be outspent by Labour on the NHS.

“The first question Johnson will need to answer voters is how he intends to fund the health service. In reality, and even if the Treasury does unlock extra funds, no amount of money for the NHS will be more than Labour commits at the next election – lack of accountability is one of the ultimate benefits of policymaking in opposition.” - Aleksandr Al-Dhahir, The Times

Lib Dem proposals do not go far enough.

“Liberal Democrats propose to increase income tax by 1p on the pound, which will raise £6 billion. This will have to stretch a long way: to fix the immediate crisis in social care, reverse the cuts to public health and more mental health services beyond what is already planned. Significantly, the Liberal Democrats provide no big proposals for fixing social care, a system widely acknowledged to be profoundly broken.” - Ruth Thorlby, The Health Foundation

Claims the Lib Dems refused to stop NHS privatisation are false.

The wording [of a Queen’s Speech amendment] expressed regret the speech did not “repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to restore a publicly provided and administered National Health Service”. This would have placed political pressure on the government and indicated a parliamentary majority for that course of action, but would not have guaranteed any action. So to suggest that “19 Lib Dem MPs refused to support a motion to stop privatisation of the NHS” exaggerates the motion by implying it would definitely have stopped privatisation of the NHS if it had a majority.” - Full Fact

Donald Trump wants countries to pay more for US drugs in trade deals.

“Trump has made clear that countries must pay more for drugs made by American firms as a pre-condition of agreeing a trade deal with the US. But NHS leaders want the government to tell the US it will not do anything that would increase the price the NHS pays, or stop it using certain medications. The report says that ‘the government should consider...maintaining early access for NHS patients to generic medicines by resisting extension of intellectual property rights [and by] resisting provisions that could increase the cost of medicines by changing pricing and reimbursement schemes’.” - Denis Campbell, The Guardian

Previous Tory cash injections in the NHS are lower than Labour’s.

“The government’s announcement of an extra cash injection for the NHS should see the health budget grow by 3 per cent a year on average – much higher than it has been since 2010. However, this is still significantly lower than the average growth we saw under the last Labour government (we estimate 5.6 per cent a year in real terms). It is also lower than the long-term average growth rate that health budgets have enjoyed since the mid 1950s (4.1 per cent a year).” - Channel 4 FactCheck

Nearly half the country thinks Mr Johnson is lying about NHS trade deal.

“When asked about the Prime Minister’s pledge, 45% said the statement ‘Boris Johnson is not telling the truth’ was closest to their view. Just 30% agreed that the leader of the Conservative Party is telling the truth, while 25% said did not know. Asked how concerned they were about the impact a future trade deal with America could have on the NHS, 35 per cent said they were ‘very concerned’.” Survation poll

The SNP need to do more to address NHS vacancies.

"We need serious steps in Scotland to make working as a doctor an appealing career choice and show doctors they are valued. That means focused efforts on recruitment and retention, improved work-life balance, and reversing years of real-term pay cuts. The Scottish Government has instead chosen to rely on temporary and more expensive locum staff to plug gaps and shore up services.” - Simon Barker, British Medical Association

The SNP deserve credit for their management of the health service.

“The SNP recognises the huge pressures we’re under, and the need to reduce demand for acute services. If the opposition brings up a patient’s case in first minister’s questions, the heat can turn up quite quickly and it all gets a bit political on this particular tightrope. I have to say that they do attempt to be supportive, particularly when the media try to whip up a non-story.” - Senior manager in Scottish NHS, The Guardian

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