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The future of the NHS: What are some of the key election pledges and issues?

Billions of pounds have already been promised in the first week of the 2019 General Election campaign.

The NHS is a key election issue (Yui Mok/PA)
The NHS is a key election issue (Yui Mok/PA)

By Jemma Crew, PA Health and Science Correspondent

The future of the NHS will be one of the key battlegrounds of the 2019 General Election.

With polling day coming ahead of a looming winter period that is predicted to be the worst faced by the service, all eyes will be on the parties to see what extra support they will pledge.

But as pressure mounts, politicians have been warned not to politicise the health service to win votes, and to avoid making impossible promises which set it up to fail.

Here are some of the key questions around the health commitments made so far.

– What does Labour’s funding announcement entail?

Labour has set out a “rescue plan” if it wins power that will involve a £26 billion cash injection, raised through taxes.

It says it wants to end the “Tory NHS crisis” and fund safe, quality care, recruit thousands of staff, rebuild crumbling facilities and refresh equipment.

The annual average 4.3% funding increase for health spending over the next four years will be funded from the party’s proposals to reverse corporation tax cuts and tax the wealthiest people in society.

– How has it been received?

Generally well, but there have been concerns about where this leaves short-term challenges, such as retaining the NHS workforce, and the issue of social care.

The Society for Acute Medicine said it is concerned about the lack of short-term detail from the main parties, while the NHS Confederation has urged parties to explain how they will tackle social care.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank warned that none of the money pledged so far by any party has been costed and will not fix a “fundamentally outdated” system.

The Liberal Democrats said Labour’s announcement “completely misses the point”.

Lib Dem spokeswoman for health Luciana Berger, who left Labour this year, said the party was ignoring the fact that Brexit is the biggest threat to the NHS.

– What might happen to the NHS following Brexit?

It is feared the health service would be at risk under future trade agreements Boris Johnson would seek post-Brexit, particularly with the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency.

But Mr Johnson dismissed these fears as on a par with myths and conspiracy theories, insisting “the NHS is not for sale”.

– How does Labour’s funding promise compare to the Conservatives’ plans?

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Labour’s pledge would make day-to-day spending more generous than existing Government plans.

The body estimates that health spending could be almost £9 billion higher in 2023-24 under Labour.

– What are the Tories offering?

The Conservative Party has pledged to deliver 50 million more GP appointments by 2024-25.

The party wants to train 500 more GPs each year from 2021-22 – bringing the total in training to 4,000 – and invest £2.5 billion over four years.

The British Medical Association said the commitment is encouraging, but questioned whether the promises will be made good given the lack of detail.

Mr Johnson also promised a new “NHS visa” making it easier for doctors and nurses from around the world to work in the UK.

– And the other parties?

The Scottish National Party wants an NHS protection Bill to explicitly protect the NHS in all four countries of the UK from becoming a bargaining chip in future trade deals.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, say they are the only party with a clear plan for the NHS and social care – with aims to make waiting times for mental health care match those for physical health care and limit the amount elderly people have to pay for social care.

PA

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