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Politicians begin election battle over NHS

Different promises to save and protect the NHS

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 06 January 2015

The three major political parties have begun their battle for this year’s general election by clashing over the NHS and setting out how they will protect it.

The Liberal Democrats today announced they would safeguard the NHS by increasing its funding by £8bn per year in real terms by 2020.

The party said it was the first to present a plan to meet the financial needs of the NHS as set out by Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive in his Five Year Forward View published in October of last year.

The funding boost by 2020-21 would be possible by including an additional £2bn into the baseline budget of the NHS, investing a further £1bn in real terms in 2016-17 paid for by tax changes and increasing health spending in line with growth in the economy.

The party also pledged to commission an independent fundamental review of NHS and social care finances before the next spending review in order to assess the pressures on NHS budgets.

It wanted to focus extra funding on two key priorities – mental health and prevention of ill health.

Chancellor George Osborne from the Conservative Party has already pledged an extra £2bn for the NHS from 2015-16 onwards, which will go into frontline health services.

At the time of the announcement last autumn, Mr Osborne said: “Because we have a strong economy and we've got the public finances under control, we can afford to put £2 billion into the frontline of the NHS across the United Kingdom.

“I can tell you we can go further and use those fines that have been paid by the banks for a permanent improvement in GP services.”

Labour has promised that it will invest £2.5bn above the level being pledged by the Conservatives and has chosen to make the NHS a battleground for the coming election in May.

It has already announced plans for a new annual “NHS Time to Care Fund” that will allow for 8,000 more GPs to be recruited as well as 20,000 more nurses, 3,000 more midwives and 5,000 more care workers, all by 2020.

Its shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that if the Conservatives stayed in government, the NHS would change “beyond recognition”.

Mr Burnham said the NHS was “on a path towards privatisation and marketisation” adding: “It's my view that if NHS carries on with experimentation of the market it will destroy everything that is precious.”

On the LibDems’ announcements, Mr Burnham said people could not trust the LibDems, describing their announcement as an example of “empty promises”.

“Labour’s fully funded plan will invest an extra £2.5 billion each year in the NHS to recruit a new workforce, including 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 GPs,” said Mr Burnham.

“You can’t trust a word the LibDems say and more empty promises from Nick Clegg are the last thing the NHS needs. After backing David Cameron’s NHS reorganisation and privatisation plans to the hilt, the public will not believe a word of this unfunded policy.”

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