NHS political football?

Politicians are making promises they might not be able to keep

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Do politicians need to stop using the NHS as a political football?

By Joe Harker

With the general election coming up the battle lines are being drawn between the major parties as they seek to convince a country they're the best bunch to run things for the next five years.

The economy, Brexit and crime are big issues which might swing voters one way or another but in British politics there's nothing quite like the NHS to get the electorate onside.

If you can convince the public you're going to do good things for the NHS, or at least are the least likely to trash it or bankrupt everyone, then you're going to pick up plenty of votes, but is this a problem?

The Claim:

Convincing the public you're the right party to run the NHS is one thing, following through on those promises to actually make the health service better is quite another.

Politicians love to talk about all the good they'll do for the NHS but a pair of doctor's groups have urged MPs not to use the health service as a political football this time around.

The purpose of the NHS is to keep the UK healthy and happy, it's not supposed to be a political tool kicked about by a barrage of promises or wielded as a weapon in an attempt to win votes.

While one party promises one thing and their opponents another the NHS is stuck in the middle trying to provide healthcare at a time when it needs more funding and services are being stretched to breaking point.

No politician lost support promising to help the NHS but a procession of empty promises which aren't delivered upon have hurt it.

There has been something of a backlash, particularly against the Conservatives. When prime minister Boris Johnson held a publicity stunt at Addenbrooke's Hospital medical student Julia Simons couldn't let him go by without giving him a piece of her mind.

The Counter Claim:

It would be better if healthcare wasn't used as a stick for politicians to beat each other with but it's nothing new when general elections are concerned.

Voters would be foolish not to take the future of the NHS into account when deciding who to vote for so it feels a bit pointless for doctor's groups to ask politicians to stop kicking them around with a manifesto of new promises.

It would help if the promises were realistic and the debate over the future of British healthcare decided by facts rather than bluster and questionable claims but it's one of the primary battlegrounds an election is fought over.

Politicians want to be seen as sticking up for the NHS and the people who rely on it, ever eager to get a round of applause from an audience by promising more money for hospitals, even if almost none of it reaches the frontline of healthcare.

To ask politicians to stay away from the NHS on the campaign trail is a bit like sitting on the beach when the tide is coming in and commanding the waves to retreat back into the sea.

The Facts:

The NHS is so important to deciding the way an election goes, with more and more money going into the budget as its needs grow. About every 30p of each £1 spent on public services goes to the NHS.

Things are getting worse for doctors and nurses as they are being stretched thinner and thinner to meet rising demands. An ageing UK population and the higher cost of treating the elderly will also give the NHS a bigger bill it needs to pay.

Waiting times for patients are longer than they used to be and there is a massive staff shortage as thousands of positions are unfilled, there are almost 40,000 nurses the NHS needs to hire. Throw in a growing backlog of maintenance and infrastructure issues and you get a picture of a healthcare service in need of help.

Despite all the problems it suffers Brits absolutely love the NHS. A majority of patients are satisfied with their care, though this is falling and the public are very concerned over the issues their local hospitals are suffering through.

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New Statesman

The NHS will influence this election, whether it's "weaponised" or not

Here we go. Come the election, come the disingenuous calls not to "politicise" an inconvenient policy area.

This week, it's the NHS. A massive hunk of the public sector born of universal healthcare values and a cherished, enduring pillar of the post-war consensus should apparently be considered not political.

In an intervention reminiscent of the big confected hoo-ha in January 2015 over Ed Miliband seeking to "weaponise" the NHS, leading health figures have told parties not to use the NHS for political advantage.

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