Set up by a Labour government in 1946, the National Health Service has become a cornerstone of society and an institution which Britain heralds as a model of excellence to the rest of the world. We boast that we have a system of healthcare in this country where it doesn’t matter how rich you are or for what reasons you need to use it, it is still free at the point of use.
With the NHS being a ‘Labour baby’, the party have subsequently marketed themselves as its guardians. Despite numerous health service scandals having taken place under their watch – Mid Staffordshire for example – and their running of the much-maligned Welsh NHS, Labour are still considered by the public as the party of the NHS.
In the build-up to this General Election Labour have pledged to employ 36,000 more staff, increasing the budget by £2.5billion per year. Labour also plan to put an increased emphasis on social care, which involves getting people out of hospitals and being looked after at home.
Although its current operators, the Conservatives, have pledged to protect the NHS budget in real terms they appear to have lost the NHS debate as usual. Labour are insisting that the Conservatives want to privatise the NHS. I don’t believe that because this government have, in fact, privatised less than Labour did.
It was interesting to hear George Osborne announce that the Tories would devolve NHS spending to Greater Manchester should they win in May. With this, they’re attempting to take the NHS out of the political arena and quash Labour’s NHS advantage in elections.
Despite previous suggestions that they may charge people to see their GPs, UKIP have pledged an additional £3 billion to the NHS annual budget. On top of that, they have stated that they will keep the NHS free at the point of delivery.
The Liberal Democrats want to increase the annual NHS budget by £8 billion by 2020 while the Greens also want to maintain a free public health service.
Labour have a huge lead on the NHS in opinion polls. Any indent the Tories can make will be a bonus for them, but after a hugely controversial reorganisation in 2010 they will find it very difficult. The only danger for Labour is that they focus too much on a battle they have already won.