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General election 2024: what do health leaders want to see from political parties?  

Following the government’s announcement that a general election will take place on 4th July 2024, health leaders are urging the next government to prioritise the NHS and the health and wellbeing of the nation.

Following Rishi Sunak’s announcement that a general election will take place on 4th July 2024, health leaders are urging the next government to prioritise the NHS and the health and wellbeing of the nation.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, says the health service has undergone some of its most “difficult years” amidst the Covid pandemic, growing waiting lists and strike action, and we have now reached a ‘turning point’.

“The next government, quite literally, has the population’s lives in its hands,” he said. “The next government’s commitment to the NHS will shape our own health and wellbeing, and those of generations to come.”

NHS spending failing to keep up with inflation

The NHS has faced significant cuts over the last decade. While the government has increased NHS spending overall, these increases have not taken account of inflation, nor the increasing needs of a growing and ageing population with more complex needs.

In fact, an analysis of health spending in the UK between 2010 and 2019 found that the government spends £3,055 per person, 18% below the EU average of £3,655.

Polling by Ipsos in March 2024 shows that the NHS has risen to one of the top issues facing Britain today, with 35% naming the health service as a key concern. Public satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time low, and the British Social Attitudes Survey shows that the British public want the NHS to continue to work on the same model so that it is free at the point of use.

While neither of the leading political parties have released an official election manifesto yet, the general public and health leaders will now be keeping a close eye on all the political parties to discover how they plan to keep one of the UK’s most cherished institutions afloat.

What can we expect from our leading political parties ahead of the general election?

Both parties have pledged to reduce the NHS waiting list, and the Conservative party says it has already implemented ‘record funding’ to drive down waiting times.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also introduced new measures to take pressure off the health service, including boosting hospital capacity, building new hospitals and giving new powers to pharmacy technicians, dental hygienists and dental therapists to supply and administer medicines.

Meanwhile, the Labour party has announced plans to deliver 40,000 more evening and weekend appointments a week, paid for by cracking down on tax avoidance and non-doms. The shadow health secretary Wes Streeting says the party will also set up shared waiting lists, trial Neighbourhood Health Centres and reform primary care by harnessing the power of the NHS app and cutting red tape in GP practices.

The party has also pledged to provide more health technology and equipment, including doubling the number of CT and MRI scanners, as well as improving dental and mental health services by introducing targeted recruitment schemes.

What health leaders are most concerned with, however, is the level of funding the NHS receives. The NHS Confederation says in order to put the health service on sustainable footing, capital spending must increase to at least £14.1 billion annually, a £6.4 billion increase from the current level of £7.7 billion.

The membership body says the next government must also introduce a long-term plan for the workforce and investment in primary, social and community care, as well as developing a national mission for health improvement to shift the focus from treating illness to preventing it.

Investment in health and care services is the ‘number one priority for voters’, says RCN

The BMA says this general election is a “chance to guarantee the future of our NHS for everyone.”

“The NHS is in crisis, with a demoralised workforce who are run down after years of being overworked and real terms pay cuts, and more than a decade of rising waiting lists and cuts to services,” said Professor Phil Banfield, BMA chair of council.

“We cannot allow our health services to continue stumbling from crisis to crisis. All parties must make the health of the NHS their top priority. They must commit to valuing, retaining, and investing in the workforce, so we can give patients the care they need and deserve,” he said.

The Royal College of Nursing has also said they are looking for “firm commitments” from all parties that they will prioritise the NHS, but RCN Chief Executive Pat Cullen has warned against making the NHS a “political football”.

“Patients need safer care; staff need fairer treatment, starting with their pay – these issues must be central to the election debate in the coming weeks. Investment in health and care services is the number one priority for voters and fundamental to a healthy society and economy,” said Prof Cullen.

“In the almost five years since the last election, a global pandemic and repeated NHS and social care crises have exposed the frailties in our most important services. Politicians must show they have the answers to widespread health and care workforce shortages and poor population health.”

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