Saturday, 10 January 2015

UK Election 1: A sensible start from the Liberal Democrats


Battle has now been joined in earnest for our general election in May, and it looks as though we're in for a very boring four months.  So far the Conservatives have boomed  that Labour is not to be trusted on the economy (which is perfectly true, but not in the way they mean) and Labour shrieks  that the Tories are not to be trusted on the National Health Service (NHS) which is perfectly true by any definition - after all the Tories specifically promised in 2010 that the NHS was "safe in their hands" and that there would be "no top down reorganisation."

Whether the much publicised difficulties of the past week (a private firm pulling out of its contract to run a hospital, several hospitals unable to meet their four hour "waiting times" targets  in their accident and emergency departments) are the result of the inappropriate and ill-timed top down re-organisation  or the funding freeze when the demands on the service are increasing, or both, or something else, is for experts to argue.  Whatever the reason(s) the fact remains that the NHS is not meeting our expectations, and the evidence is that "privatisation" is making it less rather than more effective.

Predictably Labour claims that the NHS is in "crisis."  This is nonsense, typical of the hyperbolic campaigning style which puts people off politics.  The truth is that the NHS is a highly efficient and cost-effective means of caring for the nation's health, but it is getting a bit frayed at the edges, partly because our  expectations are increasing, and partly because  people like me are living longer (a jolly good thing in my view)  but tend to have an increasing number of "health issues" which we'd like dealt with.

Amid the furore Nick Clegg has come up with a balanced and reasonable proposal.  In summary he suggests that we should increase the current funding of the NHS by £8bn in three stages by 2020-21 by:

  • continuing each year the additional £2bn announced in the recent autumn statement for 2015-16;
  • adding a further £1bn per year financed by (i) capping pension tax relief for the wealthiest (long overdue in my view), (ii)  raising dividend tax to the level of income tax and, (iii) scrapping the "shares for rights " scheme intruded by the Tories, which apparently costs £100m a year);
  • from 2017-18, increasing health spending in line with growth in the economy.
I admit to being not at all t sure how that adds up £8bn, but I find the  proposal welcome for two reasons:

1.  it not only admits that extra money is necessary, but also explains how it is to be raised, and
2.  it acknowledges that funding for at least this part of the state is to increase along with the growth of the economy.  This is in stark contrast to Tory proposals to continue cutting back the size of the state.

So well done, Nick, and continue to put forward balanced and costed proposals.  The signs are that much of the media has now written us off as an irrelevance, but I am confident that if we avoid the shrillness of the others and are sensible with what we offer we shall gain a hearing.  We may even reap an electoral reward.

2 comments:

  1. "Predictably Labour claims that the NHS is in "crisis." This is nonsense, typical of the hyperbolic campaigning style which puts people off politics."

    Just out of curiosity, have you had much contact with the NHS recently? I hadn't, until 18 months ago, and would probably have responded much as you did. But I've been pretty appalled by what I've experienced since then.

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    1. I've been pretty lucky in that I've never had anything much wrong with me but, like most people in later life, I'm plagued by lots of minor inconveniences. In the past 18 months you stipulate I've had no difficulties in getting prompt NHS dental and podiatric treatment, seen three different consultants on three separate matters, had two expensive scans at no cost to myself which, happily, discovered nothing seriously wrong, and had one satisfactory visit to A and E when I received reasonably prompt sand very effective and courteous attention.

      I'm given to understand that, on serious and urgent matters, the NHS is prompt and effective. Clearly, from reports, serious failings have been evident in some regions and at some hospitals and it is clear that we desperately need more resources in, or alternatives to, A and E.

      My only gripe about the NHS is the difficulty of getting an appointment with a GP. My experience, in which: “No appointment are available this week, no we can't give you an appointment for next week as the books aren’t yet open yet, but ring every morning at 08h00 in case there’s a cancellation” appears to be general. This seems to me to be potty and I fail to understand it.

      Since most GP practices are now groups one solution would be for one doctor to go back to the old system and have a “walk in” service, in which you sit and wait your turn, and try desperately to remember the faces of those already there when you arrived, so that you’d know when your turn is.

      So I stick with my view that the NHS is far from in crisis, but is a bit frayed at the edges. Many people in the world, even in rich countries like the US, would be delighted to have such a service.

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