As our Associate Director Chris Rogers blogged yesterday, Labour’s infighting is becoming a cycle that looks unlikely to be broken soon, and this extends into its take on health policy. There comes a time when words should be translated into actions, and now is the time for Labour to turn its rhetoric about the NHS into a plan of action. After nearly 18 months in the job, Jeremy Corbyn’s certainly had time to think through what he would do if his team were at the helm. The NHS is supposed to be the lintel around which Labour is built, and agreeing a feasible plan of action for the NHS’s future now would produce political soundbites for Labour MPs to unite on. What would the next Labour health manifesto need to address, if it was published next week?
Set out a timeline and objectives against which STPs should be measured
We know what the STPs are trying to achieve: financial stability across the NHS by 2020/21; care moved into the community; and tackling the problems looming around lifestyle diseases and an ageing population. But beyond financial sustainability, it’s difficult to tangibly measure many of those goals, and Labour’s scrutiny of the plans needs to set out what results it is expecting to see from them and when. If this was done for each STP footprint, it might even help them pick up votes in local elections coming up in May.
Agree a position on the settlement rights of existing and future health and social care workers from the EU
Brexit will dominate the political landscape until at least 2019 whether we like it or not, and Labour’s health team should focus on the interests of health and social care not being compromised by the deal achieved. Labour MPs are generally pro-immigration, and health workers are providing a desperately needed service that should earn their right to live in the UK. Setting out the score for EU workers in the NHS would also set Labour apart on something that the Government has avoided addressing so far.
Produce a credible economic plan for how Labour would fund the NHS
It’s no use criticising the Government for underfunding the NHS without saying what Labour would do if the tables were turned. Adopting a fixed funding formula, like the triple lock on pensions, would enable the Party to claim fiscal credibility for its proposed spending and provide a memorable policy to press home at every given opportunity. This would prove popular with a large section of voters (i.e. the 70% of people who would pay more tax to support the NHS) in the same way that the triple lock has secured older voters for the Conservatives.
Appoint a Minister for Social Care to get to grips with the sector’s problems
The spiralling costs of good social care and its impacts on the NHS are increasingly evident – yet adult social care is one of the many responsibilities of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Community and Social Care, alongside primary care, physical and learning disabilities, cancer and long-term conditions, just to name a few. Promising to appoint a Minister for Social Care would demonstrate Labour’s commitment to the sector, as they did well with mental health when Corbyn became leader.
Create the cross-party commission on health and social care which has been called for
While health and social care will always be used as a political tool, that doesn’t mean that cross-party collaboration on the issue should be shunned. Influential MPs including the Chair of the Health Select Committee have said a cross-party review of the long-term sustainability of the sector should be instigated, and promising this would show that Labour wants to plan for the NHS in an unprecedented way.
The Conservatives’ 2015 General Election victory was predicated on the repetition of key policy lines across the country, and if Labour is to replicate that in 2020 or 2025, it needs to agree its health policies and start shouting them from the rooftops right now. Clichéd as the suggestion is, the Conservatives are at risk from the inevitable wrangling over Brexit and their small majority. If Labour can decide on its health policy soundbites now and stick with them throughout the turmoil of Brexit, when we come out on the other side of negotiations and start looking to the 2020 election, Labour’s health policies should be so familiar that it will lend them some (much needed) credibility with the electorate.