Politicians should not play the blame game on the NHS ahead of the general election. I fear for the health services in coming months

I recently received a letter from an MP/parliamentary candidate where I live. If you haven’t had one similar, then it is probably coming soon. 

The letter went on for a whole page describing all the things wrong with the local NHS, “explaining” all the reasons why this was the fault of “the other guy”, and no explanation at all of what this individual had/would do should they be/continue to be in government following the general election.

‘I fear for the NHS during the coming months of the election campaign’

It appears that “despite concern re NHS, parties are neck and neck”, tweeted Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI.

It is also likely that the NHS will be one of, if not the, most significant debating points in the run-up to this general election. Mr Page also tweeted: “NHS goes to the top of issues voters say will use to cast their votes in May.”

Fear for the NHS

The King’s Fund Election Tracker already allows you to follow how issues relating to health and social care are being played out throughout the respective parties’ campaigns.

Personally, I don’t have much time for party politics due to the schoolboy/girl like behaviour of many politicians both within and outside the House. In spite of this, I take politics seriously and fear for the NHS during the coming months of the election campaign.

Therefore, I want to address three main points through this blog post to the politicians as they embark on their election campaigns. First, on positivity about the self being more productive than negate about others; second, being respectful about those who are being used for political gain; and third, use of honest evidence based argument “if you don’t know, don’t make it up”.

Be positive, not negative

In making our decision as to who to vote for, we are more likely to be attracted by positive people who set out a clear vision for what can be achieved than to negativity about what “the other guy” is doing/will do wrong.

It will therefore be much more popular if you clearly explain what you will do different than “the other guy” to benefit us rather than rubbishing what he/she did or didn’t do while in power/propose to do if they get in power.

‘A positive message should be more effective than constant negativity and criticism over what has gone before’

I know you will argue that “it’s important to state what difference our policies will make to the mess ‘the other guy’ left behind/will make”, but it is the constant and unrelenting schoolyard criticism of each other that is contributing to people’s negative attitude towards politics.

Be respectful of hard working NHS

It is already clear that the main political parties will use the NHS as a football throughout the election campaign.

There are more than 1.6 million people working in the NHS, all of whom, I’m sure go to work aiming to do a good job with the interest of the people we serve at heart. 

It is unfair, unreasonable and unhelpful to continually criticise the NHS - ie staff - for what “the other guy” might have done in the past/be doing now/may do in the future. Tell us what you will do; how this will make things better for those who use and work in the NHS. 

A positive message about the good you will do if you get into/continue in power should be more effective than constant negativity and criticism over what has gone before.

Negativity about the NHS risks alienating people - ie voters - who work in, have family members who work in, use or have family members who use it; so basically, the whole electorate.

Be honest and use facts

My final request is that in all political debate about the NHS that you talk honestly, based on facts and evidence - don’t make it up.

If you don’t know, say so. If you enter any kind of debate about the NHS, be sure of what’s true and what’s not.

For issues where you don’t know the facts, but they are there to be known, go and find out. Visit the front line, talk to people who use and work in the NHS, get first hand stories, as well as evidence based facts.

‘The NHS is complex and complicated, it’s not one single, simple organisation’

There are areas where there is no definitive evidence; the NHS is complex and complicated, I do get that, but this isn’t an excuse to simply criticise or make things up. 

Also, the NHS is not one single, simple organisation, it is a complex system made up of many different organisations and structures, so avoid wild generalisations where they are not true.

Finally on this point, individual people’s stories are really powerful and important to bring complex issues to life for voters, but please tread carefully in your use of stories.

Don’t take advantage of those who are kind enough to permit you to tell their story and be extremely careful not to represent single instances as the norm where evidence clearly shows this not to be the case.

Adopt these principles

In summary; please adopt these principles in your use of the NHS for your campaigning purposes:

  • be positive about what you can do, not negative about what “the other guy” might do or not do;
  • be respectful of those working hard for better outcomes for people through the tough, but rewarding roles we have in the NHS; and
  • be honest and accurate, base what you say on evidence and stick to the facts, where they are available.

Please follow this “simple” approach and the debate about the NHS during the election campaign may be a bit more sensible than I otherwise fear it will be.

This piece was originally published on David Foord’s blog, The Director’s Diary

David Foord is director of quality and safety, and nurse member for Luton Clinical Commissioning Group