The 2019 general election campaign so far has been marked by an onslaught of claims about health and social care, prompting bodies that represent NHS trusts to beg for a halt to the “weaponisation” of the service before the campaign had even begun. But there is every reason to expect more of the same in the coming weeks.
Labour have been heavily emphasising the NHS, concerns around waiting times and privatisation, and issues raised by a possible trade deal with the USA. The Conservatives are responding by pushing back hard with their own attempts to win over the public – pledging capital funding, touring hospitals, and promising action on social care.
Top of the polls
Underlying this is the fact that the voting public care deeply about the NHS. In one Opinium poll last week, more voters said the NHS was among the most important issues facing the UK than those who said Brexit was.
As well as the hallowed position the service holds in public consciousness, this no doubt reflects the reality that it is today a deeply stressed system, failing to meet waiting times targets and struggling with yawning workforce gaps. Social care in England, meanwhile, is in a dire state, and politicians from all parties face pressure to match their promises with actions.
Bringing the evidence to bear
At the Nuffield Trust, our objectives as a charity commit us to making sure this heated debate reflects the evidence about what will actually make health and social care in the UK better. That means being ever ready to check claims about NHS performance and finances, to work out what new targets and Brexit proposals would mean in practice, and to remind people of the successes and failures of policies to date.
More widely, our job is to try to focus discussion and elicit solutions where they are needed most, rather than just where rival political messaging strategies intersect. Our Twitter account will be busy, and our general election page pulls together carefully selected reports from the last few years that we think are the most relevant to the campaign. We plan to add to them regularly with articles and original research on emerging issues, and a full breakdown of manifesto pledges.
For most voters, their view of claims and policies will be mostly framed by online and broadcast media. That gives journalists who cover health and social care an extremely important and very difficult job in making sure that the facts stay visible behind the foreground of political trench warfare. We have produced a package of key facts and figures across seven of the biggest issues, along with our own views and warnings about what to watch out for as announcements start to come thick and fast. Our spokespeople, shown below, will be ready to give advice, comments and interviews.
General elections are the pivot points in British policy and politics, and each one leaves the NHS and social care with a legacy of policies, commitments and public memories that lasts for many years. We want to make sure that an intense focus on care as an issue leads to a positive legacy that helps address the problems the sector faces. If you do too, we want to help in any way that a research institute can – so stay in touch.
Dayan M (2019) “Bringing evidence and facts to the election debate”, Nuffield Trust comment.