Voters have been warned to “beware” of politicians using the NHS as “a political weapon” by a top health service boss.
Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson writes in his blog: “Frontline NHS leaders are worried that it is already starting to happen in this campaign.”
NHS Providers has an £84bn annual budget and employs more than one million staff as the membership organisation for the NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services.
“Already we are starting to see a bidding war between the main parties as to who is the best friend of the NHS,” writes Hopson. “As the health battle develops this may be expressed in competing commitments to increased NHS budgets.
NHS – ‘a serial victim of politicians’
“But voters beware! The NHS has, in the past, been a serial victim of politicians slicing and dicing funding numbers and making empty promises that were never actually delivered.”
Hopson called on political parties to avoid “cheap political slogans” and challenged politicians to instead “be clear and straight about the numbers – for example, don’t double count what’s already been announced and don’t confuse five and one year commitments to boost a headline number.”
The Conservatives have announced £2.7bn funding for six new hospitals and £100m “to start developing future projects” for 34 hospitals. Labour has vowed to save the NHS from further privatisation and from President Trump, with Jeremy Corbyn promising an end to austerity through a “proper funding settlement”.
Biggest constraint is staffing
Hopson said: “Politicians who are truly committed to the NHS will also understand the biggest constraint facing the health service is our workforce. So we need credible answers on how to close a workforce vacancy gap of more than 100,000”.
Other restraints included “damaging pension problems that are driving key staff away”, and the need to ensure an immigration system that enables the NHS to “recruit and retain the overseas staff on whom we will have to rely for the foreseeable future”.
Trump will be in London days before election
The official start to the election campaign is not until after the dissolution of parliament on November 6, five weeks before the December 12 election.
While the NHS will be a key theme throughout the campaign, a key date could prove to be December 3 as President Trump and European leaders arrive in London for the 2019 NATO Summit.
Trump lambasted European allies for paltry defence spending and their contributions to NATO at the 2018 summit in Brussels and will have much more to announce on when he arrives in London, just days before the general election.