Spending money on health care has become a major political objective for every British government since the inauguration of the National Health Service in 1947. In every election, political parties have positioned themselves carefully so that the electorate would see them as ‘major investors’ in health care.
The result has been that each successive government has sought outbid itself, and its predecessor (with little appreciable improvement in national health outcomes) but leading to a situation that has brought down governments, and leading to spending on health now coming close to bankrupting the nation.
This is an outline of the record, so far. But just listen to the news about health, and the NHS today, and recognise that it is still happening today. The NHS is under pressure, the government wants to reduce public expenditure, but ‘ring fences’ health; and Labour is ready to attack breakdown of emergency services, or anything else that suggests the government is not pouring money into a failing medical system.
1951 General Election
The Labour manifesto in 1951, 4 years after the creation of the NHS, appealed to the electorate by contrasting Britain in the inter-war years with the new situation, brought about by the NHS. It spoke about the people’s dread of doctor’s bills, and good healthcare costing more than most people could afford. They criticised the Tory opposition, who had consistently opposed the scheme.
“Now we have a national health scheme which is the admiration of the post-war world“.
For their part, the Tories stated that “In Education and Health some of the most crying needs are not being met. For the money now being spent we will provide better services and so fulfil the high hopes we all held when we planned the improvements during the war“.
Clearly, Labour were not spending enough – so they lost, and went into opposition for 13 years!
1964 General Election
Under the Conservative government, expenditure on the NHS increased, although never sufficient to satisfy the Labour opposition. The Conservatives said this in their 1964 manifesto, entitled ‘A Healthy Nation’.
“The past thirteen years have seen improvements in the nation’s health greater than in any comparable period. These advances we owe to medical science and the skill of the healing professions. They could only have been achieved against a background of rising living standards and continuously expanding health services such as Conservative Government is providing“.
They went on to promise that every man, woman and child in the country would have access to the best treatment, and that their aim was to build or rebuild some 300 hospitals. There was also a promise to “improve and bring up to date the law controlling the safety and quality of drugs”.
These promises were not sufficient. The Conservatives lost the election, and Labour returned to power.
1970 General Election
Labour lost again, despite their promises on health. They claimed to have doubled expenditure on hospital building, whilst local health and welfare expenditure “is now running at three times the level of just ten years ago”. They promised a continued expansion of training on doctors, nurses and other staff, the continuation of “our great building programme”, and inevitably, more changes in the administrative structure of the NHS.
Again, it was not enough, and Labour lost again.
1974 General Election
There is little or no mention of the NHS in the Conservative manifesto of this outgoing Tory administration – so perhaps it is little wonder that they lost!
In comparison, the Labour opposition made many health promises – to revise and expand the NHS, to abolish prescription charges, to introduce free family planning, to phase out private practice from the hospital service, and to transform the area health authorities into democratic bodies.
1979 General Election
After 5 years in power, the Labour Manifesto for this election was called ‘A Healthier Nation’. It stated that it would gave ‘priority to health’, and attacked the Tory alternatives.
“We reject Tory plans to create two health services: one for the rich, financed by private insurance with a second-class service for the rest of us. Labour reaffirms its belief in a comprehensive national health service for all our people. We oppose Tory proposals for higher prescription charges and charges for seeing a doctor or being in hospital. Our aim is to abolish all charges in the NHS“.
And Labour tried to defend its record from Conservative claims that it was cutting NHS budgets.
”For all the talk of cuts, the truth is that the Labour Government are spending over £600m a year more on health in real terms than the Tories. Labour will devote a higher proportion of the nation’s wealth to the health service and the personal social services“.
As usual, the problems of the NHS was also said to concern management rather than the medical treatment that was offered.
“We will streamline the bureaucratic and costly structure the Tories created and give a bigger say in running the NHS to the public and staff“.
Needless to say, despite these promises Labour lost the election, and the Tories were destined to be in power for the next 18 years.
1997 General Election
Despite the low priority that the 11-year Thatcher government gave to public spending, the Tory manifesto of 1997 was prepared to defend its record.
“Government spending has concentrated on priorities, not wasteful bureaucracy and over-manning. Despite tough overall public spending plans, real spending on the NHS has risen nearly 75% since 1979″. The Health Service is treating over 1 million more patients each year than before our reforms. The number of people waiting over 12 months for hospital treatment has fallen from over 200,000 in 1990 to 22,000 last year. The average wait has fallen from nearly 9 months to 4 months”.
The Conservative government lost the election, and Labour was in power for 13 years, embarking on the biggest increase in NHS spending ever seen.
2010 General Election
The New Labour government cannot be accused of scrimping on the NHS for the 13 years of its existence! Indeed, it virtually bankrupted itself, and the country, in an effort to make the NHS, now completely dominated by the Conventional Medical Establishment, work properly! When they were defeated in this election NHS spending had reached close to £120 billion per annum. But it did not save them!
Nor could any political party admit at this time that NHS spending was a major factor in the nation’s financial difficulties! All the main parties campaigned to ‘ring-fence’ health spending even though it was known that massive government spending cuts would have to be enforced over the next few years.
The new Coalition Government decided to ‘ring-fence’ health spending, one of the few departments to be so privileged. And in order to do so the government is prepared to cut other departmental spending by as much as 40-50% over the life-time of the Parliament.
Clearly, government spending on ConMed has become not just a priority. It is now a sacred cow!