Opinion

Still unsure how to vote? Maybe this will help...

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It’s just over a week to go until the general election on May 7, and the NHS remains high on the political agenda.

Barely a day goes by without one politician or another promising to ‘improve’ the NHS, and the main political parties have outlined their policies on the health service.

I don’t know about you, but I have not found them to be the happiest of reading.

The Conservatives want to make the NHS a seven day a week service. Although this will be welcomed by patients, the coalition government previously suggested funding this by abolishing unsocial hours payments for staff.

The promise of £8bn extra funding is all well and good, but this is the sum that is required by 2020 just to plug the health service’s finances, and it comes with the promise of more ‘efficiency savings’.

They also want to restrict striking in the NHS by requiring 40% of a union’s membership to vote in favour of it. Interestingly, there is no such requirement for electing an MP.

Labour say they will recruit 20,000 more nurses, half of them newly qualified, and increase nurse training places to an average of 21,000 a year. But this does not tackle the skills gap as experienced nurses leave the profession, and who will support all these newly qualified nurses in clinical practice?

They also say they will respect the recommendation of the NHS Pay Review Body (RB) on nurses’ pay, unlike health secretary Jeremy Hunt who refused the RB’s recommendation for a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff.

Labour’s big NHS policy is to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012, but many people have questioned how easy this will be, and how costly it will be to end private contracts. It is worth noting that last time they were in power, Labour expanded private finance initiative (PFI) contracts in the NHS.

The big policy of the Liberal Democrats seems to be making the NHS ‘paperless’, with a big investment in IT. They want us to be able to make doctor’s appointments and order repeat prescriptions online, even speak to our doctors via Skype. How this will address the shortage of nurses they don’t say, but they do say they will fund it through the selling off of NHS assets, such as unused buildings and land. Once those assets have gone, however, they are expensive to replace.

They also plan to spend £500m improving mental health services, a long overdue pledge. Unfortunately, £500m is very little compared to the £109bn a year it takes to fund the NHS. And remember, The Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives when the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was passed.

The Greens also want to repeal the Health and Social Act 2012, and respect the recommendations of the RB, but will likely face the same problems as the Labour party.

UKIP have promised an additional £3bn a year for the NHS. They want to recruit 20,000 more nurses, the same as Labour, but they also want to bring back the enrolled nurse. Healthcare support workers have taken on many of the roles once performed by enrolled nurses, so this just sounds like wishful nostalgia to me.

There are around 370,000 nurses employed in the NHS, and the RCN estimates that each constituency has around 1,800 nurses. We are a big group of professionals who can make a real difference in marginal seats, even safe constituencies. So why aren’t the politicians chasing after our opinions, endorsements and votes?

With only a week to go to polling day, our nursing leaders need to be upping the pressure on the political parties, and showing up the reality of their big ideas. If their policies are not practical, or just plain unfair, then the voters need to know.

As nurses, we have voices too. I have emailed my local candidates asking them what they will do for nursing because I want my voice to be heard. I want our politicians working for the NHS, not handcuffing us with untried ideas. I am tired of all the change inflicted on the NHS over the years that has had no benefit to patient care.

If politicians want our votes, we need to make sure they are working for us. We only get one vote. I am not wasting mine.

About the author

Drew PayneDrew Payne is a community staff nurse in north London