Nigel Farage admits he no longer thinks the NHS’s funding basis needs to be replaced by insurance, as his party issues its much ignored health wish list
It didn’t make much of a dent on Fleet Street’s bill for printer ink this week, but UKIP’s health policy for 2015 was launched on Monday. You can read it if you are minded to because it may or may not affect your vote.
If you are not so minded, there is good news and bad.
‘For some, the recurring taint of racism is unforgivable in the context of the NHS, in which immigrant staff are so important’
The good news for those of us who embrace the cross-party health consensus is that UKIP is back on board with it. As far as possible, healthcare should be free at the point of use on the basis of need, “paid for out of taxation, full stop”, as Nigel Farage put it at the party’s UKIP stronghold of Rochester.
It is part of his saloon bar charm - voting UKIP is an “attitude of mind”, he says - to happily disown previous utterances that prove foolish or unpopular. That includes his own previously stated view that the NHS’s funding basis is unsustainable and would have to be replaced in due course by insurance.
He admits that being forced to back down is evidence of the party’s new policy pluralism: they’re not just about Europe and immigration.
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Mr Farage once dismissed the entire 2010 UKIP manifesto in which the health section - does anyone remember opt-out “health vouchers”? - was largely a cut and paste job from the bigger parties.
‘It is all light years away from the sophisticated efforts of Simon Stevens and co to drive efficiency’
Is the 2015 version any better? Yes, there is evidence of more thought, though it remains very much a wish list of things it would like to see, such as an end to waste and bad management.
It could prove harder to achieve than UKIP’s would-be health secretary, the former Brookside actress and D’Oyly Carte opera singer turned MEP, Louise Bours, might imagine.
The headline grabber is that UKIP would require tourists, students and other would-be migrants (not refugees) to carry health insurance for five years as a condition of entry, as a means of freeing up the £2bn - far too high? - health tourism bill and thereby providing free hospital parking.
But the party’s still vague about how exactly this would be done.
Other highlights of Bours’ plan include:
- an extra £1bn to be spent on elderly care; more dementia research;
- better integration of health and social care (of course);
- an extra £3bn for frontline services;
- a licensing system for managers to raise standards and shut the revolving door; and
- free tuition for medics.
More nurses, bigger mental health budgets - Bours’ launch speech was a cry of pain on behalf of patients. Savings on Britain’s EU contributions would pay for much of it, of course.
It is all light years away from the sophisticated efforts of Simon Stevens and co to drive efficiency, transfer risk, reform the tariff and keep a cash-pressed national health service - UKIP seems to be talking just about England - going forward.
‘UKIP might not win many seats, but it could acquire some leverage’
Do UKIP’s novice policy views matter? For some, the recurring taint of racism, which the party cannot scrub clean, is unforgivable, especially in the context of the NHS, in which immigrant staff are so important.
For others, especially in largely white areas (so the evidence suggests), the opposite will be true. Europe and immigration have been welded as issues by a decade of job seekers (they’re white too) from eastern Europe.
UKIP might not win many seats, but it could acquire some leverage. The awkward fact is that major party election rhetoric can be wild and wobbly, too, and the polls suggest voters will elect another no majority Parliament on 7 May.
Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian