Reports today suggest that the Labour Party is considering significantly increasing NHS spending should it win the next election. Further work is needed by the party to assess whether such a pledge would be deliverable, although options for paying for it are thought to include a ring-fenced rise in national insurance contributions or a delay in paying down the deficit. It is likely that both these options would leave the Labour Party open to criticism from the Conservative Party ahead of the election – but could the potential gains be worthwhile?
Even though the Coalition has protected the NHS budget across the lifetime of the current Parliament, an ageing population and a rise in chronic conditions has led to ever increasing pressures on spending. There are complaints that the quality of service has suffered – recently, the NHS in England missed its target that 85% of cancer patients should begin treatment within 62 days of a referral by a GP for a suspected cancer for the first time since the measure was introduced in 2009.
A recent poll in marginal seats found that only 29% of people thought Labour was the “more trusted” party to run the NHS, and there are some figures in the Labour Party, particularly Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, who will be keen to shore up Labour’s reputation on this front. Along with other Labour health policies – such as the pledge to guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours – it remains to be seen whether a significant spending increase can be delivered in practice. But if Labour can convince the electorate that their promises on the NHS are credible, this could be a major asset going into the election.