THERE IS, believe it or not, one aspect of policy where there is a degree of unanimity in this fractious election – each of the main parties agree that the NHS is in urgent need of extra financial resources.
Yet, while Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and others used the lengthening delays for A&E treatment to justify their respective stances, they failed to show the necessary nuance and subtlety that this issue also deserves.
The fact that just 83.6 per cent of patients arriving at hospital casualty units were treated or admitted within four hours – the worst performance since the benchmark was introduced 15 years ago – is not a true reflection of the unstinting work that is undertaken by NHS doctors and nurses each and every day.
Quite the opposite. This data – coupled with its use and misuse for party political purposes – conveniently masks the fact that A&E units are actually treating more people than ever and that the issue is how they keep up with this record demand.
Yet it is naive to think that the party which promises the most money is best placed to manage the NHS after the election. Much also depends on how effectively these resources are spent.
Yes, A&E units desperately need more staff – successive governments stand guilty of training, recruiting and retaining sufficient medics – but the length of waiting times is also determined, in part, by the availability of GPs for the more minor ailments and the provision of suitable social care in local communities for the more elderly and infirm.
And it is how these three elements – GP surgeries, hospitals and social care – work together that will determine, to a large extent, whether 95 per cent of A&E patients can be seen within four hours. Extra money will certainly help – but it will quickly go to waste unless it is also matched by sound management and the careful co-ordination of patient care across the NHS.