Alongside the economy and immigration, the NHS is a definite frontrunner to complete the top three issues in contemporary British politics. Following Ed Miliband’s alleged declaration to “weaponise” the NHS, it has become the key battleground alongside the other two mentioned. As recently as this Sunday in the constituency of Heywood & Middleton, it was a recurring theme on the doorstep. The Labour Party appear to believe they have some form of divine right to be its protectors, whilst every other party would overhaul and privatise it, given the chance.
However, this stance becomes fundamentally flawed when one discovers that it was in fact Labour who significantly expanded on privatisation into the NHS, via Private Finance Initiatives. Indeed, during the time of New Labour from 1997-2008, 90% of all hospital construction was based on funding gained from PFI agreements. Furthermore, notwithstanding certain sabbaticals taken by Miliband outside of politics, it is also true that he served in Gordon Brown’s Treasury team as early as 1994, and must surely have been privy to some degree of these agreements.
The argument regarding the NHS and the implications of crippling PFI repayments is one that will be explored constantly in the run-up to the General Election. What will also be explored and continually clouded is what each of the major parties would do in light of the current NHS model, which is quite simply unsustainable. There are many factors for this, including an aging population, migration levels and funding cuts, amongst others.
It is important to note that clearly, any party proposing outright NHS privatisation would be severely punished at the ballot box. Given that Labour have already engaged in some form of private sector involvement in fact lack more credibility on the subject than any other party.
Clearly, in the same manner that both the economy and immigration are issues that affect the entire population, it is arguable that the NHS is even more central as it concerns one’s physical health, literally a life or death area of policy. Furthermore, one must note the sheer disproportion of older voters in comparison to the younger contingent and the obvious link to the importance of the NHS that arises from that.
Thus, any party wishing to seriously gain a majority in this country must quite simply adopt a universal position; protection of the NHS, free at the point of use. Despite quotes to the contrary from those of all parties, the simple fact is that all four of the Ofcom major parties (Labour, Conservatives, Lib-Dems and UKIP) are completely committed to maintaining a free NHS model. The real question is to what degree each party wishes to permit private investment behind the scenes; Labour are guilty of prolonged PFI involvement, the coalition partners have refused to exempt the NHS from the ongoing TTIP agreement and UKIP have their own radical ideas for how to maintain a free to use NHS.
There is also the argument that separately as issues in their own right, both the economy’s state and immigration in terms of numbers, both directly affect the quality of the NHS. It is for this reason that whoever finds himself in Downing Street in May must be able to address these two alongside protection of the NHS. Without doing so, the NHS will suffer even further inevitable decline that the country simply cannot afford.
Understandably, the state of the economy will dictate how much funding is available for not only enough to simply get by, but get ahead. There is a very deep dissatisfaction for the current state of the NHS that have arisen from several familiar sources, such as funding cuts and failure to adapt to an ever increasing population. The fact that protection of the NHS as it stands has become a key battleground, as opposed to wanting to improve what should be a world class institution beyond the need for protection speaks volumes as to its current condition.
Ultimately, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. The country must resolve to not only save an NHS that has been on its knees for some time, but continue to keep improving an economy that will surely bear fruit for our NHS – more money for the country means more investment for an institution that is central to the nation itself.
With respect to immigration, we must accept that whilst there are certainly many people coming here to work and simply get along in life, that at some point in life they will inevitably wish to use the NHS, a system many will have paid into the same as a British citizen. However, in light of the current state of play, it is a thoroughly legitimate view that to come and work in the UK, that it is a pre-requisite to require some form of health insurance. Whilst it would be entirely unreasonable to entirely preclude a foreign taxpayer and NHS contributor from use altogether, in placing a time limit before permitting its use, the government in power would not only reduce pressure on the NHS, but would also appear strict on both immigration and use of the NHS – two major vote winners.
At present, this would contravene European Union law as it would constitute discrimination against EU migrants (those from outside of Europe have to pay for NHS treatment, why are European migrants in a separate category?), and thus for three of the four parties simply is not an option. However, UKIP are fully in favour of such a proposal, and propose a 5 year period of health insurance before permission to use the NHS. The proposal will inevitably be met by some with negativity, however those who choose to criticise should see that not only does it reduce NHS pressure, but it also effectively combats the phenomenon of health tourism, saving the UK around £2 billion a year that could be far better invested in those who have actually contributed to the system.
In conclusion, the current NHS model with respect to current funding levels and a never ending stream of demand, both domestic and foreign is simply unsustainable. As such, there is an increasing requirement for migrant controls upon it. It is the National Health Service rather than the International Health Service, and it is only fair that anybody wishing to come here and better their life is entirely welcome to do so. However, this must be on the condition that he/she takes care of one’s own health arrangements prior to arrival; as even UKIP’s proposal makes an exception for emergency medical care; fairness must prevail and therefore the interests of the British people. Improvement, not mere survival of the NHS is central to the British interest and this is not conceivable with current unfettered use from those abroad, especially those from Europe who are for some reason treated differently to those outside the continent.
By Nicholas Godleman, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.