Labour and Tories would leave NHS 'worse off' than under austerity, health think tank warns

16 June 2024, 10:46 | Updated: 16 June 2024, 11:15

Labour and the Conservatives would leave the NHS 'worse off than under austerity', the Nuffield Trust has warned
Labour and the Conservatives would leave the NHS 'worse off than under austerity', the Nuffield Trust has warned. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Both Labour and the Conservatives would leave the NHS worse off than under austerity, a healthcare think tank has warned.

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The Nuffield Trust said that the parties' manifestoes suggested that spending on the health service would go up over the next five years by a lower amount than during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government from 2010-2015.

The think tank said that "the manifestos imply increases [in annual funding for the NHS] between 2024-25 and 2028-29 of 0.9% [a year] for the Conservatives and 1.1% for Labour. Both Conservative and Labour proposals would represent a lower level of funding increase than the period of ‘austerity’ between 2010-11 and 2014-15."

“This would be an unprecedented slowdown in NHS finances and it is inconceivable that it would accompany the dramatic recovery all are promising. This slowdown follows three years of particularly constrained finances.”

Sally Gainsbury, an analyst at the think tank, told the Observer: "They will struggle to be able to pay the existing staff, let alone the additional staff set out in the workforce plan. It’s completely unrealistic.”

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Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting meet patients and staff at Bassetlaw Hospital in Nottinghamshire
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting meet patients and staff at Bassetlaw Hospital in Nottinghamshire. Picture: Alamy

Labour said in response that they would "deliver the investment and reform the NHS needs”.

They said: "Our £2bn investment will deliver 40,000 extra appointments a week on evenings and weekends, double the number of scanners, 700,000 extra emergency dental appointments, 8,500 more mental health professionals, and mental health support in every school and community.

"We’ll pay for it by clamping down on tax dodgers, because working people can’t afford another tax rise."

A Tory spokesperson said: “The Conservatives have taken bold action to cut waiting lists and secure the future of the NHS, with the total budget increasing by over a third in real terms since 2010 and our £2.4bn long-term workforce plan – the first of its kind – delivering record numbers of doctors and nurses.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with medical staff during a visit to Woking Community Hospital
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with medical staff during a visit to Woking Community Hospital. Picture: Alamy

It comes as Labour and the Lib Dems have set out their pledges to cut cancer waiting times if either or both are able to form a government after the General Election on Thursday July 4.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who lost both his parents to cancer, said he wanted to "end the tragedy of people losing their lives because cancer treatment took too long to start".

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who recently received treatment for kidney cancer, said "thousands of patients have waited too long for tests, scans and treatment".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting. Picture: Getty

The Conservatives' Health Secretary Victoria Atkins acknowledged there is "more to do" to improve cancer detection rates.

The Liberal Democrats have proposed a £1 billion boost for radiotherapy equipment and claim an extra 200 machines would "put the NHS in England amongst the top of the league tables of the number of machines per million people".

It is part of the party's pledge to introduce a legal guarantee that every cancer patient should receive treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral, and could reduce the distances that patients have to travel to access treatment.

Roughly half the £1 billion cash injection would go on capital expenditure to buy the equipment, with the remaining sum for staffing costs, according to the party.

Ed Davey
Ed Davey. Picture: Getty

Sir Ed said: "Like millions of people around the country, I know what it's like to have your life turned upside down by cancer.

"Thankfully, survival rates and treatments have improved since I lost both my parents to cancer growing up.

"But there is so much more we must do to improve cancer care and spare families the heartbreak of losing a loved one to this terrible disease.

"We must put an end to the tragedy of people losing their lives because cancer treatment took too long to start.

"Nobody should be unable to receive treatment because there isn't enough equipment.

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"Improving cancer care will be a top priority for Liberal Democrat MPs in the next Parliament.

"Our bold plan would see more investment in radiotherapy machines to improve survival rates and slash waiting times."

Labour has claimed 700,000 cancer patients will wait too long for treatment if the Conservatives are given another five years in Government.

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The party said its plan to "catch cancer" involved delivering an extra 40,000 appointments, tests and scans a week at evenings and weekends, doubling the number of CT and MRI scanners, with new AI-enabled scanners, and the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history.

Mr Streeting also proposed measures for a "progressive ban on tobacco".

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill proposed by the Conservative government and backed by Mr Streeting at a second reading proposed banning tobacco product sales to everyone born after January 1, 2009.

It failed to clear its hurdles in the Houses of Parliament before the dissolution.

The shadow health secretary said: "Having gone through treatment for kidney cancer, I know that the earlier cancer is caught, the better chance of survival.

"Since the Conservatives took office in 2010, hundreds of thousands of patients have waited too long for tests, scans and treatment.

"If the Conservatives are given another five years, nothing will change, the crisis in cancer care will continue and hundreds of thousands more cancer patients will wait too long.

"Labour's fully-funded and fully-costed plan will catch cancer on time, diagnosing earlier and treating it faster to save lives.

"We will also prevent cancer in the first place, passing a progressive ban on tobacco so young people today are even less likely to smoke than they are to vote Tory."

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Ms Atkins said cancer detection rates "continue to improve" and added: "We know there is more to do which is why we have recruited record numbers of doctors and nurses and will deliver 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors through our long-term NHS workforce plan and opened 160 community diagnostic centres and will deliver 50 more, delivering millions for scans, tests and checks every year to speed up results and start treatment more quickly."

"Only Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have a clear plan and will take the bold action needed to improve cancer detection rates and save lives, building a brighter future for them and their families.

"A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for Labour's unfunded promises which would make patients worse off and raise taxes by £2,094 for the privilege, taking the country back to square one."

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