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The NHS prepares for election fever

What will the next month bring for the NHS, asks Mike Shallcross

Some are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them. In 2017, a lady called Brenda became the voice of a nation when she was interviewed on the day the election was announced. ‘Not ANOTHER one?’ came her reply. ‘There’s TOO much politics going on at the moment.’

Fast forward two and a half years, and to another election. Someone who agrees there is too much politics, at least where the NHS is concerned, is Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, who urged the parties to steer away from ‘cheap political slogans’ about the NHS during the campaign. Good luck with that one…

Mr Hopson spotted two early whoppers: the Tories’ claim that their increased NHS budget is some kind of lottery jackpot (it isn’t, it just about covers running costs); and Labour’s claims of imminent privatisation (a daft populist fantasy which undermines a more serious message about missed targets and waiting times).

The NHS is framed as an inevitable political battle, but in practice, its existence has been marked by consensus. Many a Tory has prescribed it free market medicine in theory, but baulked at the reality. Many a Labourite has sworn to drive the private sector from the temple, but realised that undiluted carbolic-scented statism was a fantasy even in 1948.

The real issues aren’t going away – long-term staff shortages, and the need for good public health and social care to relieve the pressure on hospitals. And we need the
best brains on both sides to formulate solutions. But realistically this sort of rapprochement will have to wait until after 13 December. For now, the phoney war rages on – and we are all, in some way, Brenda.