The first full week of election campaigning has seen wishful thinking and acrimony
By most tests it’s been a pretty baleful election campaign so far, you may agree.
What is that line from WB Yeats about the best lacking all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity (and not just the stridently partisan newspapers either)?
By my calculation 2015’s most exotic health related claim by a politician in week one was a contest between the most potently disruptive insurgents, UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s uncrowned “Queen of Scotland”.
‘No wonder voters get cynical about election pledges that don’t deliver what they say on the tin’
We’ll come back to them. It’s the main party leaders who should worry us more.
Anyone who thinks about overstretched NHS resources must have been surprised by David Cameron’s airy assurance that by 2020 families can expect seven day a week access to their GP(s), email contact and 12 hour surgeries.
It’s pie in the sky and suggests Number 10 understands neither the demand side pressures from customers - not just oldies but the impatient young and worried well - nor pressures on staff and budgets.
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Is the NHS a rod for his own back?
As for Labour’s response, this week’s “the doctor can’t see you now” poster is an eye catching tribute to the Tories’ 1979 “Labour isn’t working” jobless queue, but the strapline “the Tories have made it harder to see a GP” is a half truth at best, based on avoidable errors like NHS Direct “reform”.
But Labour in office made it harder too. Remember those scatty new GP contracts? Of course you do.
Lots of things make GP visits harder, including a sharp, immigration driven population increase which politicians have failed to manage well.
Ed Miliband has unoriginally made the NHS a key campaign theme, a rod for his own back if he actually gets to Number 10, because all those well wishers signing round robin “save our NHS” letters to the newspapers will quickly be disappointed.
‘Mark Porter may be shroud waving when he warns of inevitable patient charges, but at least he poses a hard choice’
So will his potential “allies” from nationalist Wales and Scotland, who seemed smugly keen to spend other people’s taxes in last week’s TV debate.
No wonder voters get cynical about election pledges that don’t deliver what they say on the tin.
In many ways these campaigns live in a parallel universe.
Outside in the real world, trusts are struggling to recruit and retain staff, many from abroad, while some chief executives take home more than David Cameron’s £142,500 (three times as much in Peterborough) and private sector firms promise to beat Simon Stevens’ NHS in the introduction of innovative cancer treatments available elsewhere in Europe.
Good or bad? You decide.
Such developments are all reported in the cheerleader press, but rarely connected to the political debate.
Welcome to planet NHS
So I was grateful when the Financial Times commissioned the Health Foundation to show that the cost of extra nurses in the post-Stafford era has damaged Mr Stevens’ productivity goals, enlarging the £8bn funding gap that politicians sort of promise to fill but probably can’t.
Welcome to Planet NHS, Dave, Ed and Co.
‘Nigel has a point but it won’t dent budget holes much’
Doctors’ union leader Mark Porter may be shroud waving when he warns of inevitable patient charges ahead, but at least he poses a hard choice.
Farage and Sturgeon? In that TV debate Nigel caused offence by saying 60 per cent of new HIV cases are not British nationals.
He has a point, though it won’t dent budget holes much.
As for St Nic, she said raising the pension age isn’t fair on Scots because they die younger. We don’t like to remind voters to eat, drink and smoke less during elections, do we?
Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian