COMMENT - ELECTION

Published: 05/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5954 Page 3

Regardless of the election result, the NHS will be very content to see the back of it.

The quality of debate about the health service has been poor - dominated by rows over MRSA and bureaucracy which will have left the public little clearer over the real challenges facing it.

Politicians had a chance to inform the electorate about the big questions of choice, affordability and demand.

Surprise, surprise - few took it. A media obsessed with anecdote and political embarrassment did not help of course.

But there is a more insidious side to the election debate which is highlighted on pages 12-13. The nature of the argument over immigration will have disturbed many in the NHS. Mainstream politicians have steered well away from anything which could have led to direct accusations of racism, but the tenor of the debate - in which the contribution of immigrants has been underplayed - may have created an unbalanced view in the minds of many.

NHS staff will be aware of the dangerous effect this may have on the public's attitude towards people from overseas who work in the NHS.

There is also the question of how NHS staff relate to each other. Our news report on page 7 shows the service still struggles to avoid discrimination.

One of those challenges not adequately addressed during the election campaign was how the NHS will learn to rely less on healthcare staff from other countries that can ill afford to lose them.

But even should that day come, an organisation as big and renowned as the NHS will always have a fair number of immigrants working in it.

The goal of a multicultural society is often decried today, but the health service shows that it can - and in most cases does - work. That achievement should be lauded as one in which the UK can truly take pride.