In 2009-10, Labour’s last year in office, health spending (on NHS England) was £97.6bn. There have been rises each year since, taking the total to a forecast £111.8bn in 2015-16. So much for the story of endless cuts.
There were cuts in the bureaucracy under the Coalition’s changes made in the first half of the Parliament. These changes were designed to require fewer administrators, freeing more money for clinical staff, and to allow more decisions to be taken locally by senior medics and senior administrators who know and understand their local health service.
The Conservatives are offering to complete their move of the service to a seven day a week service. Progress is being made in this direction. A Conservative government next time would complete the transition. GP services would be available at week-ends as a matter of routine, and there would be Consultant led services working in hospitals seven days a week as well. There is an extra cost for this, which the NHS is spelling out. The government has met their requests for extra money to cover this for 2015-16, and would meet reasonable requests in future years which will be negotiated budget year by budget year in the normal way.
Labour say there is a financial and privatisation threat to the NHS, but I see no evidence of this. Labour has not made an offer of better or more extensive service to the public. They concentrate on matters of internal organisation, and have decided to impose profit controls on any private sector contractor the NHS might use. It is difficult to see how this might help, as any such contracts are only awarded after competitive tender to ensure a fair price, and are presumably only put out to tender where they think the private sector can do it cheaper and better. The NHS under the coalition is not under any new directive to contract out. In office Labour Ministers allowed substantial contracting out by the NHS presumably to achieve savings and improve performance.
There are two very odd features to Labour making the NHS the centre of its General Election campaign. The first is, the General Election is irrelevant to the NHS in Wales and Scotland, so why is Labour ignoring their vote in those two countries by talking all the time about NHS England? The second is, Labour has nothing new or positive to say about the NHS. It is not offering us a better service, not telling us how it will prevent Stafford style crises in the future, and not telling us if it will start to put patients first with better services. There is no evidence from Wales, where Labour does run the NHS, that it is better – far from it.