In normal circumstances a weakish Conservative government calling an early election might spell hope for the NHS. Instead this self-serving move of Theresa May’s will cause fear because an entrenched Conservative majority really could spell the end of many public services including the NHS as we know it.
Underfunded, understaffed and undermined by a mixture of political malevolence and neglect the NHS is currently fighting a rearguard survival action. Another five years of Tory rule could well see the NHS break up.
It is vital that this election is not just about Brexit or a repeat of the referendum. The original and infamous Brexit campaign bus pledge of £350m for the NHS may not have been believed by those in the know even on the Brexit side but it certainly helped frame the debate and might actually have helped tip the balance in the referendum.
Of course the pledge then got ditched as the estimated costs of Brexit mounted up.
We want to see some honesty about the likely effects of Brexit on the NHS in terms of costs, impact on staff, regulations (including trade deals), drug safety, public health and of course on patients –both here and in Europe as a whole.
Not all may be negative but early pressures are already apparent, especially among staff. The next government should be recognising these and committed to ensuring the NHS is not adversely affected.
None of the opposition parties have developed particularly coherent and up to date policies on health and social care but all those concerned with the future of the NHS must push for realistic attention to the plight of health and health-related services to feature strongly in the forthcoming campaign. NHS campaigners want restoration of NHS annual budget growth to four per cent, not the 0.1 per cent currently projected for the next two years – funded by special taxation if necessary, not by charges on those in need.
We want decent conditions for staff to stop the erosion of doctors and nurses including an end to the chaos being caused to rotas by the contract imposed on junior doctors by Jeremy Hunt.
We want a stop to the closure of services without adequate and publicly acceptable alternatives in place – something trailed in many of the new NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans. Above all we want an end to the marketing of clinical and community services across the NHS which is costing unnecessary billions of pounds without improving services and often damaging them.
It may be impossible for this not to be a Brexit dominated election. But let’s make sure that future of the NHS, social care and other crucial public services are at the centre of arguments and not just used as expandable political ammunition. We want a future government which is committed to maintaining the NHS as a universal service, adequately and publicly funded, publicly provided and free at the point of delivery.
We don’t want a government content to allow our public services to wither because it gives them no ideological or financial priority while it engages in continental and global negotiation. More than one generation stands in acute risk of neglect.