NHS bosses warn MPs not to politicise health service during General Election campaign

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Romilly Weeks

Two leading doctors' groups have warned politicians not to use the NHS to win votes during the election campaign.

It comes as Labour's recent data claims NHS cancelled operations due to staff shortages and equipment failures are up by a third in two years.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and NHS Providers say the Conservatives and the Labour Party should not try to use the NHS to lure votes by making impossible promises which set the service up to fail.

Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Providers warned politicians not to pledge investments unless they will follow through after the General Election.

She told ITV News: "Don't make those claims of investment unless you're going to make sure you're going to follow up on them if you are elected."

She added: "And also what we don't want to see is a bidding war between the political parties so that though if one party says they're going to invest this much and then the other party goes higher."

Labour claims figures it has obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests show almost 80,000 operations, either urgent or cancelled at the last minute, were called off last year.

Academy chairwoman Carrie MacEwen said the role of the NHS was to "manage the health of the nation, not to be used as a tool to swing voters in a three-way marginal".

"Both major parties say they want to spend the election talking about the NHS," Professor MacEwen wrote in The Times.

She adds: "Not only is it less divisive and easier to explain than Brexit but, unusually in this election, it's an issue on which both main parties think they can win."

But Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell agreed and told ITV News, the NHS "should not be weaponised in a General Election campaign."

"We have to have an honest discussion and debate about the state of the NHS, we need to make sure our proposals are properly costed," he said.

"One of the reasons we want to do that...is to meet NHS staff themselves, front line staff, to tell us what is it like on the front line, what's happening, what do they need and what sort of levels of funding they want and that's the way we are developing our funding."

However Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has told ITV News that the "scaremongering from the Labour Party is what brings down the NHS."

"I am very proud of that record investment that the Conservative government has put into the NHS and that ongoing long-term plan that the NHS has asked for which we are funding."

Ms Coffey added: "It is important we have trust in our clinical professionals and everybody who helps to make patients better, I think it is key that we keep that positive message, quite frankly the scaremongering that goes on all the time from the Labour Party is what brings down the NHS."

Meanwhile Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said he is not going to apologise for being angry and determined about the NHS.

He told ITV News: "It's right the NHS leaders hold us to account, scrutinise the policy announcements we are making but at the same time I am not going to be apologetic for being angry and determined to do something about the NHS, when there's 80,000 people having their operations cancelled like my constituent who had their bladder operation cancelled twice."

Mr Ashworth added: "And I'm not going to say sorry for being angry about 4.5 million people on the waiting list."

While the Liberal Democrats' Chuka Umunna denied the party uses the NHS as a 'political football', after two leading doctors' groups urged politicians not to politicise the health service.

He told ITV News: "Amongst the main parties, people do not level the charge that we are politicising the NHS, this is usually a claim made in relation to the Labour and Conservative parties.

"But we all have to be sensitive about how we talk about issues and be clear we are not using something for political purposes but looking out for the future of that organisation."

Mr Umunna added the Lib Dems have a fully costed proposals in relation to the NHS and will put a penny on the pound of income tax and use that money to fund the health service.

Professor MacEwen cited early examples of MPs politicising the NHS, such as Labour claiming a nationalised drugs company would make cheaper medicines, while not spelling out who would pay for research into new drugs.

She said the Tories had also flagged funding for 40 new hospitals, making it "disappointing to learn that in fact money had been allocated to just six".

NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson, also writing in The Times, urged politicians not to make "empty promises" or create "unrealistic expectations".

Mr Hopson said "over-dramatising or distorting the difficulties for political ends will do nothing to help those frontline staff who are working flat out for patients".

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