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General Election 2019: NHS boss – Parties ‘ducked’ big issues

Politicians have “ducked” the big issues in health and social care during the election, a leading NHS boss says.

At the start of the campaign, NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson urged parties not to make “empty promises” or create “unrealistic expectations”.

There have since been manifesto pledges of millions more in NHS funding and extra staff from both main parties.

But Mr Hopson says they have not offered “credible answers” to the NHS’s biggest challenges.

The NHS has been a major issue during the campaign, with some polls suggesting voters place it of higher importance to them than Brexit.

All three parties are promising above-inflation increases to the budget for frontline care. The pledges only apply to England as health and care issues are devolved.

There have also been promises to increase staffing. Labour has pledged to boost nurse numbers by 24,000, while the Conservatives have promised 50,000 nurses, factoring in the retention of current staff.

The Liberal Democrats have promised to put a penny on income tax to help fund health and social care.

Party pledges for NHS spending

NHS England budget (£bn)

But despite the numerous announcements, Mr Hopson said the election debate had “fallen short”.

‘Talked a good game’

Writing in The Times, he said the extra funding commitments were helpful, but added: “In reality, they go no further than restoring NHS funding growth to what they’ve been in past.

“But it’s not just about money. Whilst we are pleased that parties are committing to increase staff numbers, it’s still not clear how that will actually happen.”

Mr Hopson said there had also been a “genuine opportunity” for parties to tackle social care.

“The offers from the main parties have varied in scope and ambition, but none has developed a compelling worked-through and credibly funded long-term solution.”

He added: “Once again we see politicians responding to popular support for the NHS, presenting themselves as its advocates and champions, but not really addressing what’s needed to sustain the NHS long-term.

“Health service staff and leaders will continue to do all they can to provide outstanding care, but they need more support, more realism and more forward-thinking from a political class which has once again talked a good game, but ducked too many of the big tackles.”

Professor Carrie MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said there had been “all sorts of claims” about the NHS during the election campaign.

“In all the noise, what’s been most noticeable is the fact that there’s been precious little debate on tackling the really big issue – the lack of decent social care. Only when this is dealt with will the NHS be able to function as it was intended,” she said.

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said she was “deeply concerned” about emergency departments which she says are “struggling to cope and increasingly difficult places for staff to deliver the standard of care they want to”.

She added: “Emergency departments are the NHS safety net and the safety net is buckling.”

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BBC News – Health