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Who Will Win the NHS?
With exactly 6 months until the next general election, the main political parties have started their war of words to win the NHS. Senior Labour ministers feel they can make progress out of what they see as the unpopularity of the government's reforms and the growing pressures hospitals are facing in terms of deficits and meeting waiting time targets. But to win the fight over the NHS they know they have to present a convincing vision for what a Labour government could offer.
Neither the Conservative party nor Labour are keen to reveal their full spending plans at this stage but it is interesting that the coalition government has actually increased the NHS budget in cash terms, but that only equates to 0.1% rises each year in real terms once you factor in inflation. Also, even if we assume the £2.5bn is extra on top of inflation, it would still not be enough to close the £30bn funding gap health economists forecast there will be by 2020.
The NHS has a lot of voters
One of the key questions will be how each of the parties plan to spend NHS monies. Investment of staff is overdue as well as premises funding but incentivising staff to stay and even return to working in the NHS will be a challenge. The NHS employs more than 1.7 million people. Of those, just under half are clinically qualified, including 310,000 GPs, 370,000 nurses, 18,500 ambulance staff, and 105,000 hospital and community health service medical and dental staff. That’s a lot of voters who care what the political parties have planned for their futures.
The biggest challenge
One of the biggest challenges facing the new government will be how they will offer sufficient funding to cope with the rising demand for services. Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association, says these factors are the "fundamental part of the problem. GPs are being asked to do more and more for less. The government is now talking about seven-day services, but at the moment doctors are struggling to provide good quality care during core hours. Without better funding the fear is patients will suffer."