IT is the eternal fate of the NHS to be a political football, and the squabbling between political parties over who will be its most trusted custodian inevitably intensifies during an election campaign.
Yet such arguments are an unedifying spectacle which can distract from the serious questions about how best to run the service and deal with the challenges it faces.
At their worst, the disagreements can seem to denigrate the NHS when the public wants to see it spoken about with the respect, admiration and affection it deserves.
The issues facing the service are myriad. Yesterday it emerged that Britain’s health spending and outcomes for patients lag behind those of other countries, and there was further evidence of worrying nurse shortages, with less-qualified staff being used to plug gaps.
The Conservatives will point to their key manifesto pledge to give the NHS 50,000 more nurses as evidence of their commitment to it.
But Labour counter with what they claim to be evidence of plans to open the service to American drugs companies.
Rhetoric will not solve the problems, and nor will addressing them in isolation.
Clearly the service has to be modernised if it is to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population, but that must be done in tandem with a new policy on social care, so that hospital beds are not blocked.
There may be merit in looking at the devolved Scottish model of healthcare where more per head is spent on patients than in the rest of the UK. If there are lessons to be learned, they should be.
But above all, what the public expects from whoever forms the next Government is a clearly thought out and comprehensively funded plan for the NHS’s future. This most beloved of public services deserves no less.