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NHS a central issue for the July 4 election

NHS a central issue for the July 4 election
By Beth Gault
23 May 2024

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced there will be a general election on 4 July, with the health service set to be a key issue. 

Mr Sunak, leader of the Conservative party, has announced five priorities if his party is to continue in government after July, one of which is to cut the waiting lists in the NHS.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning (23 May), Mr Sunak said that NHS waiting lists had not fallen ‘as much as I would like’ since his tenure as prime minister began in October, which was ‘disappointing’.

He said: ‘We haven’t made as much progress on NHS waiting lists as I would like, but they have now fallen by 200,000 over the past few months and actually the NHS have published data showing that if it wasn’t for the industrial action, they would have fallen by almost half a million and we would have met the pledge.’

He added that they had hired more doctors and nurses so ‘we’ve got the staff we need in the future’, that they are working on creating a ‘smoke free generation’, and that it was now ‘easier for you to go and see your pharmacist rather than your GP’.

Last week, Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer set out his party’s election pledges, including to cut hospital waiting lists by providing an extra 40,000 NHS appointments and operations per week.

He said this pledge, along with five other election commitments, were the ‘first steps’ the party would take if they won the election.

In his speech on 16 May, he said: ‘The ambition is there, to make that happen we’ve got to operate at weekends and evenings, we’ve got to pay staff for the shifts.

‘That is why we’ve already had the starting discussions about the staff about how that will work because I don’t want to waste any time in the first 100 days of a Labour government on discussions I could be having now, so our ambition is to get that up as quickly as possible.’

The Liberal Democrats have also pledged ‘fair access to good public services’ as one of their five themes for their ‘fair deal’ plan.

Green party co-leader, Carla Denyer, said the party’s manifesto would be coming out in ‘a few weeks’ but that one of its key priorities would be protecting the NHS from privatisation and making sure that it’s properly funded.’

Health leaders have called on the political parties to ensure the NHS is central to their plans.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The next government, quite literally, has the population’s lives in its hands.

‘As we head into the election season, political parties must remember that a healthier nation is not only beneficial to our day-to-day lives but it supports the safe running of the NHS and wider economy. Our evidence shows that every £1 of investment in the NHS returns £4 to the economy in gross value added (GVA).

‘Since the last election, the NHS has gone through its most difficult years with it responding to a global pandemic, growing waiting lists, staffing pressures and strikes, and rising ill health. In the face of these challenges, its 1.4 million staff continue to deliver their very best for their patients but the road to recovery is long.’

He added that health leaders are ‘clear’ on what the NHS needs to be able to thrive, including working ‘even harder to spend every healthcare pound as effectively as possible’.

‘We are at a turning point for the NHS and political parties have a choice to make on what they want their legacy to be if they are granted the keys to Downing Street. Simply put, the next government’s commitment to the NHS will shape our own health and wellbeing, and those of generations to come,’ he said.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive, NHS Providers, urged politicians to ‘rally around the next generation NHS’.

‘We need health services fit for the future with patients and communities at the heart of conversations,’ he said.

‘Public satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time low, reflecting many people’s experiences of the relentless pressure on GPs, hospitals, ambulances and mental health and community health services. But public support for the fundamental principles of the NHS remains rock-solid.

‘Demand for health and social care services is increasing and getting more complex as providers and staff work flat out in tough conditions to give patients safe, first-class care.

‘The next government and the NHS must work hand in hand to create the picture of health for the nation we all want to see.’

Meanwhile, The King’s Fund has said a future government should focus on three priorities: improving access to out-of-hospital care, making careers in health and social care more attractive, and tackling the biggest risk factors affecting people’s health.

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