It’s just over five weeks to go until the nation heads to the polling booths on 7 May. And that decision is likely to be heavily influenced by the parties’ plans for the NHS.
The Conservatives are stressing the importance of choice - with patients being able to choose their healthcare provider.
Meanwhile, Labour has pledged to train 10,000 more nurses. And at “Nursing Counts”, last week’s excellent RCN hustings event, Andy Burnham said he would “immediately” raise the number of commissions for student nurse training places.
UKIP says it will do away with degree-level nursing and re-introduce the state-enrolled nurse.
The Liberal Democrats have made mental health a headline issue, pledging to invest £400m more in early support and to guarantee equality of mental health treatment.
The Greens say they will end NHS privatisation and repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
It’s notable that, when the prime minister unveiled the six key themes of his manifesto in January, the NHS was not included. In fact, Mr Cameron has not made headlines with crowd-pleasing commitments regarding the NHS that his rivals have.
At the RCN event last week, Mr Burnham played to the audience, pledging to increase staffing numbers and ensure nurses continue to be eligible for unsocial hours payments.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter insisted that up-banding was happening - though, amid heated audience reaction, he said downbanding was unacceptable (see page 3). He also argued that maintaining the affordability of the NHS meant he could not commit to promises over pay.
But, even if you accept the parties’ ideologies, how can you tell what they will do once in power? Before the 2010 election, the Conservatives pledged not to introduce top-down organisational changes, but within a year they passed the Health and Social Care Bill, which led to the biggest change in the NHS’s 60-year history.
All we can do is scrutinise the pledges and hold to account whoever is in government on 8 May. And that’s what we’ll be doing over the next few weeks. We’ll be asking each of the main parties to spell out in detail their health policies. So look out for our pre-election coverage and let us help you decide which box to place your cross in on election day.
Jenni Middleton, editor
Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed