Health and social care election tracker
How did health and social care issues shape the political landscape in the run-up to the 2015 UK general election?
Think tanks call for a 'dose of realism' from parties
The chief executives of two leading health and care think tanks call for a ‘dose of realism’ from the parties about their NHS funding pledges. Writing jointly to the Guardian, Chris Ham of The King’s Fund and Nigel Edwards of the Nuffield Trust say that ‘promises of jam tomorrow are not enough’ given the immediate pressures facing the service. They also caution that the £8 billion quoted as the amount needed by the NHS is ‘the bare minimum’ needed to maintain standards of care.
Candidates clash over health and care plans
Candidates from the four major parties discuss health and social care issues at a debate organised by The King’s Fund and other leading health organisations. Jeremy Hunt, Andy Burnham, Norman Lamb and UKIP’s Dr Julia Reid make their pitches for government, followed by a public question and answer session with an audience of professionals, patients and policymakers.
UKIP show their hand
UKIP are the final major UK-wide party to publish their prospectus for government. The manifesto pledges that the party would spend £3 billion a year more on the NHS and £1.2 billion a year more on social care over the next parliament. It also pledges that migrants and visitors to the United Kingdom will be required to have medical insurance and that full entitlement to NHS services will only be granted once someone has paid taxes in the United Kingdom for at least five years.
Other commitments in the manifesto include fully integrating health and social care under the control of the NHS and abolishing hospital parking charges in England. UKIP also say that they would replace Monitor and the Care Quality Commission with 'county health boards' made up of locally elected health and social care professionals.
Parties clash over NHS in TV debate
Party leaders trade blows on health policy as they set out their priorities in the only head-to-head debate of the campaign. In the televised discussion, Ed Miliband urges Britons to use their vote ‘to fight for the future of the NHS’ while David Cameron speaks of his personal experience of using the service, calling it the ‘most important national institution and national public service that we have’. Nick Clegg says that the NHS needs ‘hard cash’, reminding the audience that the Liberal Democrats are the only party so far to have explicitly promised an extra £8 billion a year for it if elected.
Nigel Farage is criticised by other leaders for raising the issue of so-called ‘health tourism’, including the claim that 60 per cent of those diagnosed as HIV positive in the UK each year are foreign nationals. Farage defends his comments two days later, as a YouGov poll finds that half of respondents would support UKIP’s flagship policy of a five-year ban on NHS treatment for those coming to live in the UK from other countries.
Extra NHS funding among UKIP’s ‘pledges to Britain’
Nigel Farage unveils UKIP's five key pledges as the party launches its election campaign in central London. It includes the promise, first made in January, to increase NHS spending by £3 billion a year.
Farage confirms UKIP manifesto to be published 'as late as possible'
Nigel Farage tells Prospect magazine that UKIP’s manifesto will be published ‘as late as possible’ – perhaps 15 to 18 days before polling day. There has been speculation about its timing since Tim Aker MEP, the party’s former head of policy, stepped down in January. The manifesto is now being drafted under the leadership of UKIP’s deputy chair, Suzanne Evans MEP.
Describing ring-fencing the NHS budget as ‘a waste of time – it’s moonshine to think we can’, Farage says that UKIP does not have detailed plans for the reorganisation of the NHS but is adamant that the service’s efficiency could be improved. UKIP’s current policy – as set out by health spokesman Louise Bours – is to invest an extra £3 billion a year in the NHS front line.
UKIP launch NHS policy
UKIP health spokesman Louise Bours launches the party’s policy programme for health and social care. Reiterating its commitment to invest £3 billion per year extra in the NHS front line, Bours adds that if elected, UKIP would increase dementia funding by £130 million per year over the next parliament and would increase social care funding for older people by £1 billion each year. The party also announces that integration of health and social care is a priority, and that it would enable this by bringing funding of both under an NHS-controlled ‘social care fund’.
Bours confirms the party’s pledges to scrap hospital car parking charges in England, make private medical insurance compulsory for many migrants, introduce a license to practice for medical mangers and abolish the Care Quality Commission, with inspections undertaken by democratically elected local health boards.
Farage says NHS funding model will need to be reconsidered
Nigel Farage warns that there will need to be further debate about how the NHS is funded in future, in response to the pressures of an ageing population. Challenged by the BBC on his previous statements favouring an insurance-based funding model, the UKIP leader says that 'as time goes on, this is a debate that we're all going to have to return to'. He confirms that his party colleagues had 'outright rejected' his proposal for an insurance-based system.
The comments appear to mark a shift from Farage's statement in November 2014 that UKIP had 'an unshakeable commitment to a health care system that is free at the point of use' and that there would be 'no more debate, no more argument' in UKIP about the funding of the NHS.
Louise Bours, UKIP's health spokesman, claims that 'if the party discuss it again, we will reject it again'.
Parties begin 2015 NHS campaigning
Labour fires the starting pistol on a new year of NHS campaigning, showing that health and care remain at the top of the pre-election agenda. Douglas Alexander, the party’s Chair of General Election Strategy, publishes a 27-page dossier criticising the coalition’s management of the service, arguing that it ‘cannot survive five more years of David Cameron’. He claims that on current trends the NHS of 2020 could see waiting lists of 4 million, and more than half a million older people no longer able to access to social care.
Labour also reiterates its own NHS proposals, including the creation of a £2.5 billion a year Time to Care Fund and repeal of the coalition’s Health and Social Care Act, and unveils its first election poster for 2015, which parodies David Cameron’s 2010 pledge to ‘cut the deficit, not the NHS’. In an interview with the BBC, David Cameron highlights extra NHS funding made available by the government in December, and calls on all parties to unite behind this commitment and the vision outlined in the NHS five year forward view.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage tells Sky News that, while ‘overall health spending is going to go up over the next few years’, efficiency savings could still be made, pinpointing NHS middle managers as a potential target. He also says that a UKIP government would ‘winnow out’ doctors and nurses not meeting a prescribed standard of spoken English.
Farage clarifies UKIP's position on NHS
Ukip leader Nigel Farage is forced to clarify the party’s position on the NHS, after a video from 2012 emerges of him suggesting public funding of the NHS should be replaced by a private insurance model.
In a column for The Independent Farage confirms Ukip will keep the NHS free at the point of use and gives some further details of Ukip’s health policy, which include ending the use of PfI contracts and ensuring all migrants have private health insurance.
Health policy a central issue on Rochester and Strood by-election trail
Health is a high-profile issue in the Rochester and Strood by-election, caused by the defection of Conservative MP Mark Reckless to UKIP. Politicians and commentators are watching events closely for an indication of the public’s priorities and mood ahead of the general election.
In an October poll, voters in the constituency identified the state of local NHS services as the most important issue facing them and their families, ahead of issues such as immigration, crime and employment.
Some of this debate has focused directly on the local hospital, Medway Maritime Hospital. This has been in special measures since July 2013, with regulators judging that it had made ‘no progress’ by July 2014.
UKIP health spokesman's speech to conference
At UKIP’s annual conference, health spokesman Louise Bours MEP pledges to end hospital car parking charges in England. This would be done using £200 million of an estimated £2 billion, which UKIP claim can be saved by charging NHS health insurance to migrant workers and visitors entering the UK.
Bours also proposes that Monitor and the Care Quality Commission be replaced by ‘county health boards’ of locally elected health professionals, and confirms the party’s proposal of a statutory ‘licence to manage’ for NHS managers, overseen by a professional regulator on the same footing as the General Medical Council.
Bours denies that the party would introduce charges for GP appointments.
A year to go to the election
With a year to go until the general election, comparatively little is known about how the party manifestos will shape up. All the main parties are currently consulting their members on the policies that will eventually make up their manifestos.
We know most about where Labour are heading – their health offer is likely to focus on their proposals for whole person care, although some significant questions remain about how this will be implemented and paid for. The Lib Dems are beginning to differentiate themselves from their coalition partners by setting out their own policy positions – expect more of this as polling day draws nearer. We know least about how the Conservative manifesto will shape up – the way their policy process works means that little will be revealed before their party conference in the autumn. Among the other parties, UKIP’s health policy remains a blank slate, other than a requirement for migrants and visitors to the UK to show proof of health insurance as a condition of entry, while the Green party have pledged to ‘restore the NHS to public ownership’ and introduce free personal care for older people. Finally, this election will see a new name on some ballot papers, with the National Health Action Party pledging to field up to 50 candidates.