PRimage is watching with interest the current debates around the finances and future direction of the NHS and differing political stances around public spending cuts. Andy Burnham, the new health secretary, has admitted that the NHS will become more “lean” as a report from the NHS Confederation has warned that the service is entering an era of sustained and severe spending constraint. Raising the quality of services is the best way to improve productivity as NHS spending is cut, and this should not be a time of “gloom”, the new health secretary says. This debate centers on the issue that the health service may not survive unless dramatic action is taken to manage investment cuts. The NHS chief executive David Nicholson has said the NHS must plan for real terms cuts, despite protestations from the government and the Conservative opposition that they would continue to give it real terms increases. And the NHS Confederation chief executive Steve Barnett states that NHS is facing a “make or break” moment in its history. Judy Viitanen and the PRimage team would agree!
Yesterday the Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley confirmed the Conservatives’ commitment to increasing the NHS budget in real terms after 2011 while calling on managers to justify the extra spend. He said that the health service will be exempt from cuts under the Conservatives – and that a future Conservative government would guarantee “real-terms growth in NHS expenditure”. He also told NHS managers at the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool, that his party was NOT planning to impose cuts and blamed projected cash shortfalls on proposed Labour spending plans.
Predictably, Gordon Brown has seized on this, accusing the Conservatives of planning big public spending cuts – but Judy believes this is part of his strategy to try and regain the initiative after he quelled a rebellion in his Labour party. And in the PRimage view as both Labour and the Tories accept the Budget’s spending plans until 2014, Gordon Brown cannot accuse the Conservatives of savaging the public services unless he plans to do the same! However, all this has led to Cameron being forced on the defensive over his economic policy. And after a week of Labour infighting and near-collapse, these alleged Tory plans for spending cuts dominated prime minister’s questions, in angry House of Commons exchanges yesterday, that suggested where the battle lines for the next general election would be. Watch this space!