In Depth

What the UK’s political parties are promising for the NHS

Health service is a key battleground in the election campaign

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The UK’s main political parties are setting out their plans for the NHS in a bid to win over voters.

Health service funding has been a “political battleground since 2010”, when the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government limited annual NHS spending rises to just over 1% - far below the 3.7% average of the preceding decades, The Guardian says. The NHS budget finally increased this April, by 3.4%, after Theresa May pledged last year to give the service an extra £20.5bn by 2023-24.

But what would each of the rival parties offer the NHS if they claim power at the 12 December election?

Labour

Labour has vowed to outspend the Conservatives with an £26bn of funding a year for the NHS - equivalent to a 4.3% annual rise.

The opposition party says its “rescue plan” would give the health service £5.5bn more a year by 2023-24 than has been promised by the Tories. Labour would pay for the funding with “higher taxes on companies and the wealthiest in society”, the i news site reports.

Announcing the proposals, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that “proper funding” was needed to maintain a world-class health service.

Labour is also pledging to end the lengthening delays in A&E and cancer treatment; tackle the NHS’s staffing crisis; bring back bursaries for student nurses; bolster mental healthcare services; and pay for a new generation of hospitals, GP surgeries and mental health facilities.

Conservatives

The Tories have pledged to increase the NHS budget by £33.9bn a year by 2023-24 and to build 40 new hospitals.

A total of £2.7bn has been allocated to construct six new hospitals by 2025, and a further 34 hospitals will receive £100m in initial funding to start developing projects.

Boris Johnson has also promised to provide maintenance grants of between £5,000 and £8,000 a year for student nurses, as part of a programme to add a total of 50,000 more nurses to the NHS workforce by 2023.

But Labour has branded the pledge “deceitful”, pointing out that 18,500 of the nurses wouldn’t be new recruits but rather “retained” staff encouraged to stay in the profession.

A further 12,500 nurses would be recruited from abroad, meaning just 19,000 of the promised posts would be filled by new trainees.

Other Conservative pledges include creating 50 million more GP appointments each year, by recruiting and training 6,000 further GPs and 6,000 new primary care doctors.

And according to the Tory manifesto, social care would receive £1bn of new funding for every year of the next parliament, while the amount of cash set aside for research into dementia would double.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems say they would raise money to invest in the NHS by adding a penny to the basic rate of income tax, which they claim would raise £7bn a year over five years - a total of £35bn. 

But according to the BBC’s health editor, Hugh Pym, “this is a vague concept and simply means the party has promised £7bn a year more for health”.

The Lib Dem manifesto also promises to establish a cross-party commission to set a long-term funding settlement for the NHS and social care. The party would introduce a dedicated health and social care tax to cover the cost, rather than funding health through general taxation.

In addition, the Lib Dems plan to introduce same-day phone or video appointments with a healthcare professional from patients’ local GP practice, reducing the number of people attending A&E.

Another key campaign pledge is to “transform mental health services by treating mental health with the same urgency as physical health”.

Scottish National Party

The SNP would introduce an NHS Protection Bill that would prevent the government from using the NHS as a “bargaining chip” in trade talks. The party says the aim of the bill is to protect the NHS from privatisation.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claims that despite health policy being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the UK government could currently “sell off” the NHS in Scotland. But if passed, the bill would provide the devolved parliaments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with the power to veto any subsequent trade deals. 

Sturgeon has also said that in the event of a hung parliament, one of her conditions for supporting the ruling party would be a promise that NHS spending per head in England and Wales would match spending north of the border.

Green Party

The Greens have promised to introduce an NHS reinstatement bill, which would increase funding for the health service by at least £6bn per year until 2030.

Like Labour, the Green Party would also “roll back privatisation of the NHS” and guarantee that all health and dental services are provided free.

Brexit Party

Nigel Farage’s party says it would invest in the NHS and social care, and ensure better management of the health service, with more medical staff and less waste.

Farage insists the service would continue to be publicly owned and free at the point of use - but critics point out that earlier this year, the Brexit Party boss called on private health companies to “relieve the burden” on the health service.

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