General Election 2019: Don't Politicise Health Service - NHS Boss
Monday, 4th November 2019
NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson has warned political parties against using the NHS as "a political weapon" in the election campaign.
The long-term future of the NHS and social care is likely to be a key battleground in the run-up to the 12 December election with both the Tories and Labour vowing to spend billions to improve care.
The Tories are expected to trumpet extra spending on the health service in England, including a £2.7bn investment for six hospitals over five years and £100m for a further 34 hospitals to start developing future projects. This is on top of an extra £20bn in funding agreed by Theresa May's government up to 2023.
Labour argues the NHS is reeling from the tightest funding squeeze in modern history since 2010, which it says has left nearly four and half million people waiting for treatment and seen thousands of cancelled operations last year. Jeremy Corbyn has said he will end austerity in the NHS via a "proper funding settlement", with the exact details to be announced ahead of the launch of the party's manifesto.
Writing on the Times website, Mr Hopson, who acts for health trust leaders in England, said it was understandable that during election campaigns politicians should "cast themselves as champions and defenders of the NHS" but he has called for a "proper, mature, evidence-based" debate on what the NHS needs.
"Let's not resort to the cheap political slogans and skimming across the top which is what we've seen over the last four or five elections."
It is unrealistic to expect the parties to dial down their highly charged debates on the subject but NHS Providers argue that things are already getting out of hand.
The NHS in England cannot seem to keep up with growing demand for care, which is "particularly worrying" with winter looming. Hospital chiefs are known to be concerned that there was intense pressure in recent weeks before winter had really set in. How that pressure develops before polling day could be a major issue in this campaign.
While there are areas where "the NHS is falling short", Mr Hopson said "over-dramatising or distorting the difficulties for political ends will do nothing to help those frontline staff who are working flat out for patients. Equally, disingenuous claims about extra funding, or promises that create unrealistic expectations, may be tempting in the heat of the election battle, but they do the health service no favours."
Carrie MacEwen, from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said undeliverable promises "simply set up the NHS to fail".
"The NHS's role is to manage the health of the nation, not to be used as a tool to swing voters in a three-way marginal," she told the Times. "Our fear is in these febrile times we will see irrational, undeliverable promises or even outright lies."