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Which party will do the most for the NHS?

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Health candidates debate at the RCN hustings Health candidates debate at the RCN hustings

With less than 24 hours before polls open, political parties have made their final commitments to the NHS and the nursing workforce before the election is decided.

The parties have outlined their plans to strengthen the NHS and address challenges facing the workforce. Key issues such as access to primary care services, workforce pay, and how to fund the NHS for the future have featured in the pledges.

All parties have committed to increasing the NHS budget in real terms between 2015 and 2020. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have pledged to provide the health service with the £8 billion gap in funding outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View, while Labour have committed £2.5 billion in the form of the Time to Care fund.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have vowed to end public sector pay restraint by ensuring that decisions made by bodies such as the NHS PRB are accepted. A spokesperson for the Lib Dems said: 'Pay should at least keep pace with inflation for 16/17 and 17/18. This means a minimum pay increase of £350 for a nurse on £25,000. We recognise the hard work and long hours nurses put in, and are the only party to set out a credible road map for how we will safeguard the NHS over the next parliament.'

The Conservatives have promised to create 'a truly seven-day NHS' by 2020, with extended opening hours for primary care services. However, there has been concern that this could lead to nurses and other healthcare workers working longer hours for the same pay.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: 'People need to be able to see their GP at a time that suits them and their family. That's why we will ensure everyone can see a GP seven days a week by 2020. We will also support thousands more GP practices to stay open longer – giving millions of patients better access to their doctor.'

Labour has said that it will recruit 20,000 more nurses, 8000 more GPs, 3000 more midwives and 5000 new homecare workers. These will be paid for from the Time to Care Fund, raised from a valuation tax on properties worth over £2 million, cracking down on tax avoidance and a levy on tobacco firms.

A Labour party spokesman said: 'Delivering these extra staff numbers will require action on a range of fronts, including increasing the number of training places and apprenticeships, better retention, and encouraging staff to return to practice. Ensuring better access to primary care can lead to dramatic savings by alleviating pressure in A&E and by reducing the need for more expensive hospital care. The Tory-led Government has slashed nurse training, with 8,000 fewer nurse training places during this parliament than if numbers had been retained at 2010 levels.'

The Green Party have also emphasised the need for improved primary care in their policies. They have committed to increasing the primary care budget to 11% of the NHS budget, and expanding primary and community care improve preventative medicine.

Green health spokesperson Dr Jillian Creasy said: 'We need a culture in which all staff are able to shape the system they work in. We will focus on, in particular, the increased recruitment of health professionals needed to tackle the crisis of our time, mental health. Additionally, we will emphasise prevention through expansion of the primary and community care sector. We advocate an NHS that respects and trusts health professionals, training and rewarding them accordingly.'

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have outlined plans to end the disparity between mental health and physical health. The Liberal Democrats, who have driven the agenda, have committed to a £500 million fund to accomplish this aim, while Labour 'will make mental health the priority it deserves to be.'

The RCN estimates that there are an average of 1800 nurses in each constituency, and in many key marginal constituencies, the nursing vote could prove to be the deciding factor. With the upcoming general election promising to be one of the closest in history, nurses have a powerful opportunity to influence the selection of the next government and improve the conditions in which they work.

At the time of writing, UKIP and the SNP had not commented on how their party's policies would affect the primary care nursing workforce.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your views to @IndyNurseMag

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