So much more money is needed to deliver services that we might have to consider the radical idea of some cross-party unity, writes Andrew Murrison

I predicted healthcare would, after Brexit, be the primary colour of the campaign. I was right but not in the way I thought. As the election was being called, foot soldiers like me had no idea what was about to hit us.  

Dementia tax lost the majority. For those of us knocking on doors in marginals its effect was chilling, defeating even the most seasoned apologists.

It also had the effect of booting a more general debate about how the NHS can continue to do much more with little more into the long grass. But it’s a debate that we must have.

‘The reconciliation is with the hard working staff of our NHS, clinical and managerial, who feel they have been given it both barrels’

That debate needs to start with truth and reconciliation. The truth is that the better health outcomes enjoyed in comparably wealthy European states and the significantly better funding in each of them are causally related. The reconciliation is with the hard working staff of our NHS, clinical and managerial, who feel they have been given it both barrels – a public sector pay freeze plus the failure to recognise that most put in far more than they get out. They are not the problem. They are the solution.

As  it approaches its 70th birthday, we must remind ourselves that the NHS is too great a national institution for any one party, particularly a party without a majority.

Cuts to healthcare that fall so readily from the left’s curled lips is fake new. We are spending more on healthcare than ever before.

But let’s be frank with the public about demand outstripping real increases in NHS funding. It is generally accepted that the deficit will be £20-30bn by the end of the decade, as it happens in the same ballpark as the £350m per week enticement on the side of the Vote Leave bus last year when uplifted to reflect the UK’s projected gross remittance to the EU by 2020/21.

But given how the public loves the NHS, the closest we have to a national religion, it’ll be happy to pay more tax, right? Sadly not, at least not yet. The best and most recent evidence suggests that the great majority do not want to see personal taxes rise to pay for healthcare. The Lib Dems road tested the idea in their 2017 manifesto by suggesting a penny on income tax for health. They bombed.

‘The spirit of the age is for change and its appetite is for inclusivity, consensus, even coalition’.

But more money, much more, is needed nevertheless. We cannot simply rely on a growing economy to deliver it and nobody ever really thought that the Simon Stevens Five Year Forward View assessment of potential NHS efficiency savings and productivity was realistic.

The spirit of the age is for change and its appetite is for inclusivity, consensus, even coalition. What better time to dust down the proposals a number of us made earlier this year for a cross party commission to map the future funding of British health and social care.

In its current mood the public would be up for that.

I’m thinking the government might be, too.

Andrew Murrison is a doctor, former minister and MP for South West Wiltshire.