Should the NHS be weaponised within political debate?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image Courtesy of Reaction

The National Health Service is a public organisation, offering a wide array of services from healthcare to wellbeing. It is something that every single person living in Britain will almost certainly experience at least once in one’s life. As such, founded in 1948, it has not only a historical and cultural significance but also a unifying one. Everyone knows the good the NHS does, as such it is something we can often take advantage of and forget about.

In recent years however, the NHS has been used more and more as a tool by political groups within the UK, be it seeking to achieve a specific referendum outcome, or the outcome of an entire general election. As such, it is important to address the extreme amount to which political rhetoric now so often falls back on the NHS’ already overburdened shoulders, causing it to rip and rupture more than ever before.

Whilst the NHS has always been a key concern of the general public, one of the most notable times in recent years where it was politicised was during the 2016 Brexit referendum. The notorious ‘Brexit Bus’ was used across the country to act as propaganda for the ‘Leave’ campaign. For those not already aware the bus had the message ‘We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead. Vote Leave.’ This message resonated with millions of voters for obvious reasons and crucially acted as a key argument of the leave campaign. Now, whilst promised funding for the NHS would never be looked on negatively the Leave Campaign’s promise was one made on no legally binding ground, rather resulted in a key criticism of the Leave Campaign. People wanted to know when that money would be received by an already declining NHS, yet the Leave Campaign had no definitive answer. A core promise was effectively null and void until the Brexit debacle could be solved; a debacle still ongoing over three years later.

Regarding today’s concerns about the NHS, on December 12 the people will go to the polls, electing what will not only be the government to finally tackle Brexit, but the one to govern the country for the next five years. As such, election campaigns have begun and the two largest parties, Boris Johnson’s Conservative’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are set to face off on core policies.

Regardless, the NHS has already been dragged into the antagonistic political shenanigans of parliament for the past several years. One of Johnson’s first pledges in his campaign to be Tory leader was the creation of 40 new hospitals; as expected Labour immediately attacked the rapidity at which the hospitals would actually be constructed. Labour are now launching their election campaign proposing the highest increase in health funding, topping the Tories’ budget by £6bn by 2023/24.

Most intriguing about these disputes is that the two parties’ goals actually converge and align on the issue of the NHS. While the Conservatives may not have pledged an equal sum to Labour, they have proposed a total budget of £149bn, far exceeding their current budget of £121bn. As such, the two parties clearly both care for the NHS and see it as a priority for its funding to be reached. Necessary to reduced waiting times, greater funding for mental health initiatives and increased GP training.

Despite this consensus, the parties refuse to acknowledge one another’s promises as a positive, rather the NHS is used as a political battleground in which who can defeat the other in building more hospitals or spending more money will be seen as the ‘victor’. This is effectively a huge PR stunt to detract from the main voter concern of Brexit. Brexit is what revealed the schism within Britain as a whole and as such the parties prioritising Brexit seek to alienate potential voters. Thus, the unifying NHS is what has recently seen greater headlines, be it for Jeremy Corbyn to avoid a clear stance on Brexit or for Boris Johnson to appear caring and compassionate.

Overall, the resonance the NHS has with voters is what causes us to care about it so much, and the political infighting over it serves only to weaken the prestige and cause confusion within what should be celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest assets.

P.S. Hands-off, Donald.

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