The NHS is set to become a key election issue following the announcement of a General Election in six weeks time.
Although the election on 8 June will be fought largely on Brexit, the NHS presents the one issue a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party is trusted more on than the Conservative Government.
The NHS is creaking under increased demand and social care cuts.
Despite funding being at a record high – £120bn for 2016/17 – the increases are slowing. The health budget will grow by only 1.2% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2020/21, far below the long-term average annual increases in health spending.
Demand for services is increasing much higher at 5% every year causing chaos in some GP practices and trusts. After years of significant falls, waiting times for emergency care and routine operations are growing again.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a Government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS.”
The parties’ manifestos for the General Election represent an opportunity to make, abandon and amend policy commitments affecting the NHS.
There will be calls for promises to protect and increase current NHS spending plans.
Furthermore, the health service will feature via the Brexit debate with there being major concerns over clinical workforce.
The Prime Minister has supported long term social care funding reform but detail has yet to be revealed.
Dr Mark Porter, Chair of BMA Council, said the union would strive to make the health service a central issue in the election campaign.
He said: “This election could all too easily become the ‘Brexit election’, and little else, at precisely the time when the health service in which we work is under unprecedented stress and needs the unrelenting focus of politicians from all parties to rescue it.
“We have seen consecutive governments in denial about the state of the health service, and when it comes to elections they have treated it as little more than a political football. Our health and social care systems can simply no longer cope without urgent and coherent action.
“Patients want, vote for, and deserve better. We need politicians of all parties to stop ducking the crisis and come up with credible and sustainable plans for safeguarding the future of the health service.”
The General Election itself will present problems for the ongoing changes in the NHS.
The Five Year Forward View timetable has been broadly lined up with the 2015-2020 election cycle, which is now broken.
The reconfigurations being proposed by the Sustainability and Transformation Plans will face considerable local scrutiny, with local MPs wanting to remain popular and not be associated with service closures.
The General Election will be followed by more uncertainty surrounding new policy commitments, new health ministers, and new priorities.
Several big national NHS posts need appointees as well, including the chair of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the chair of NHS Improvement, the medical director of NHS England and the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals.