Labour has attacked the Conservatives for having “damaged” the NHS over the past five years, claiming that thousands of frontline redundancies are partly to blame for the service’s deterioration.
Speaking today in Salford as he launched Labour’s election campaign, party leader Ed Miliband placed the NHS at the centre of the opening salvo in his bid to become prime minister in May.
He claimed the NHS was missing vital waiting time targets in accident and emergency departments and for operations, and it was now harder for patients to get a GP appointment.
If the Conservatives were to be re-elected, standards would continue to fall and the health service would be unrecognisable in five years’ time, he added.
“Give them [the Conservative party] five more [years] and the NHS as we know it just won’t be there”
Mr Miliband pledged that if his party were elected he would instead protect the NHS by introducing new measures such as guaranteed GP appointments within 48 hours and a one-week wait for cancer tests.
He re-iterated his commitment to a £2.5bn Time to Care fund, which would pay for 36,000 additional NHS staff, including 20,000 extra nurses.
“We’re [Labour] fighting for a Britain that deals with its debts responsibly, without shredding our NHS and vital public services…. The Tories have damaged the NHS in these five years. Give them five more and the NHS as we know it just won’t be there, said Mr Miliband.
His speech follows a document published yesterday by Labour, which lays out how NHS standards have allegedly fallen under the Conservatives and how Labour intends to “save” the service.
Drawn up by the Labour’s election campaign coordinator Douglas Alexander, the 27-page dossier is titled The NHS as you know it cannot survive five more years of David Cameron. Citing Department of Health figures, it claimed more than 9,000 frontline NHS staff were made redundant between 2010-11 and 2013-14.
“The Tories are already breaking half of the waiting time guarantees to patients enshrined in the NHS Constitution”
It added that nurse staffing levels have failed to keep up with increased demand from a growing population, with the number of nurses per head in England having fallen from 5,364 whole time equivalent nurses in May 2010 per million people to 5,182 in May 2014.
The document argues that this has led to a shortfall of almost 10,000 nurses – part of a staffing crisis across the NHS which is contributing to falling standards.
It pointed to lower numbers of district nurses and modern matrons in 2014 compared with 2010, and highlighted that nurse training places have been cut over the same period – by around 7,000 commissions.
The proposed Time to Care Fund – with its annual £2.5bn investment – would help to address these problems in the future, according to the dossier.
It also stated that Labour would introduce other improvements such as giving patients more input over local services changes, and creating a new fund for cancer treatment to provide better access to drugs, radiotherapy and surgery.
Mr Alexander said: “The Tories are already breaking half of the waiting time guarantees to patients enshrined in the NHS Constitution, including on cancer and A&E.
“A Tory second term would put us on course for ever-longer waits for patients because they have no plan to give the NHS the cash it needs and want to take public spending back to 1930s levels,” he added.
“That is why the NHS is on the ballot paper at this election,” he said. “And that is why we will work morning, noon and night to save it.”
The Labour dossier also used a recent Nursing Times survey to highlight the “real nursing pressures in the NHS”.
It quoted our survey published in February 2014, which found more than half of nurses believed their ward or unit remained dangerously understaffed a year after the Francis report.
A Conservative spokesman said: “We can only have a strong NHS by staying on the road to a stronger economy.
“Our long-term economic plan has meant we are able to increase the NHS budget in the next parliament to help fund [NHS England chief executive]Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View. This plan will help meet growing demand, give the public better access to GPs and improve preventative care - and it is widely supported in the NHS.”
He also pointed to recent workforce statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre , which show that, as of September 2014, there were 2,721 more nurses, midwives and health visitors than there were in May 2010.