The topic of public health seems to be becoming a bigger key issue of the upcoming general election. It is no wonder that it is the future of one of the pillars of British society that is much talked about these past few weeks. An Ipsos Mori poll found that state of NHS is most important issue for voters in this election. Accordingly, all parties have big plans for the National Health Service and want to improve it through massive investment, a strategy good for winning undecided voters since everyone is affected in some way.
all parties have big plans for the National Health Service and want to improve it through massive investment
Founded in 1948, the NHS has never seen a fall in its budget under any government, it has rather seen it increase by a yearly average of 3.6% allowing for inflation. However, in the years between 2010 and 2018 that are associated with austerity measures in UK politics, it increased only by 1.3% on average. Associated with this, the cancer, hospital care and A&E waiting times are at their highest levels ever and key targets have been missed for three years. The parties want to change this now and spending promises ahead of this election have been high in this rather prosperous economic environment.
This began with the prime minister announcing the NHS Long-term plan in 2018 which set out a yearly average increase of 3.4% between 2019 and 2024. The Conservative party wants to hold on to that policy. Boris Johnson has said the party was going to upgrade 20 hospitals and build 40 new hospitals, and while the government has pledged £2.7bn for building work on six hospitals, a further 34 will only share an initial £100m to develop future plans.
On the other hand, the Labour party has said it would spend much more than that: They want to invest £26 billion into the NHS by 2024 which amounts to a 3.9% yearly increase. Their ‘NHS Rescue Plan’ also promises more money for mental health infrastructure of the country, an issue that is shown to be increasingly important for universities. A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research states that 94% of UK universities have seen massive increases in the number of people trying to access services, some reaching threefold rises.
The Liberal Democrats want to invest £7.8bn a year additionally for health and social care and this should be funded by a 1p rise in income tax. The Greens pledge to raise funding for the NHS by at least £6bn per year until 2030 and want to invest £1bn per year additionally to reinstate nursing bursaries. Furthermore, they plan to expand NHS provision to include dentistry, prescriptions and mental health treatment. UKIP wants £2bn extra social care funding per year and a £500m increase in mental health funding.
One of Labour’s strongest line of attack against the Conservative Party on this issue is the trade deal that is going to be negotiated with the United States after the UK leaves the European Union. They voice the concern that US negotiators and president Trump have complained that US pharmaceutical companies are in many cases able to set higher prices for American health providers than for the NHS.
This is because the NHS has relatively high bargaining power due to its size and its centralised control over drug availability which is attractive to drug corporations that want to be part of the market. To find the right suppliers, the NHS in England has the help of NICE which is advising on reaching the biggest benefits for patients from a cost-benefit perspective. Scotland has an equivalent institution in the SMC. Under the current law, foreign firms can bid for NHS contracts if they have a European subsidiary. Critics of a trade deal fear that the US might demand a more open bidding process which would open up access for their companies to the UK market. The voluntary pricing and access scheme (VPAS) currently limits the total cost of medication for the NHS.
In fact, Channel 4’s Dispatches programme has found out that “drug pricing” was a topic of discussion in six initial meetings between representatives from UK and US for a potential trade deal. Allegedly, there have also been “secret meetings” between US pharmaceutical corporations and UK civil servants. According to research carried out for the programme, the cost of that to the UK government is approximately £27 billion. A report by the NHS Confederation has also warned that the NHS could be facing much higher costs for medication.
The government has said following about this: “We could not agree to any proposals on medicines pricing or access that would put NHS finances at risk or reduce clinician and patient choice”. While they claim the NHS wouldn’t be on the table for any trade deal, the Trump visit in June where he said NHS would feature in a possible post-Brexit trade deal but rowed back from it the following day shows that is not quite certain yet that it wouldn’t.