Funding. Labour must do something to stop Cameron's charge that "Labour would have cut the NHS but the Tories are increasing funding". The evidence - from the last Darling budget - was that Labour would have given flat real terms increases (ie increases that match inflation, but no more) for two years, as opposed to Osborne's flat real terms increases for four years. There are other differences (for example, the size of the planned capital budgets) but most of these lacked detail and can be addressed. Labour needs to be clear about what its plans were and what its plans for the future will be. This is a vital issue and too long Cameron has been allowed to avoid answering an NHS policy question by repeating his trite and untrue statement that Labour would have cut whereas the Tories have increased funding.
Blairism. Labour must draw a line under the Blairite reforms. They must spell out once and for all the purpose of introducing ISTCs, the CCP, FTs, PbR etc, and they must point out which of these succeeded and which failed. If Labour does a mea culpa on ISTC funding it would kill the Tory attack that "Labour paid the private sector more than the NHS". Labour did pay ISTCs more than the NHS, and admitting that they did, and importantly, saying that they would not repeat this if re-elected, would make the Tory argument pointless.
What the public want. Labour have to be seen to be ahead of the government on the issues that matter to the public. The three main issues are: access, waiting times and accountability:
- Access: the postcode lottery and health inequalities. These will get much worse under the new Bill and Labour must take every opportunity to point this out. While health inequalities are important, it is the postcode lottery that will get the most publicity and so Labour concentrate on this. Every time a Tory NHS policy is discussed, Labour must point out the potential for a postcode lottery. (And any policy that has the word localism in it will be a source of regional variations, and a postcode lottery.) If people think that they will be rationed simply because of where they live, then they are likely to oppose the policy because it is simply unfair. The public have a deep emotional attachment for fairness, Labour have to point out how unfair the Tory policies will be and how Labour will bring fairness back.
- Waiting Times. Labour have tried to make an issue of waiting lists, but in my opinion they are looking at the wrong thing. The big scandal in the next few years will be Referral Management Systems, in other words, GPs' referrals rejected by "faceless bureaucrats". In many areas of the country only urgent treatment is offered without review and for non-urgent treatment (like hip replacement or cataract removals) GPs are being told to delay referrals, with the referral management system in place to ensure a GP sticks to the rules. Crucially, since it is the GP referral that is delayed, they do not appear on the RTT waiting times (since the RTT stopwatch only starts once the referral is made). This is why Cameron and Lansley can say waiting times are not affected: if care is denied the patient is not waiting for it. This rationing of healthcare will increase the business of the private sector as people decide to pay for the treatment denied by the NHS. (IMO, this is how the NHS will be "privatised".) Labour must attack this policy on every front. If the government says that GPs are in control of care, then Labour should question why Referral Management Systems (that overturn GP decisions) are needed. Labour should campaign that the Department of Health should publish the numbers of referrals that have been delayed by GPs or rejected by the Referral Management Systems. This is another fairness issue and Labour should show that it is a Conservative government that is being unfair.
- Accountability. Labour should campaign that it is our NHS, and as part of this, campaign for more accountability. Labour can latch on the "no decision about me, without me" message by pointing out how the new NHS structures - National Commissioning Board, Monitor, CCP - specifically excludes patients' opinions, so they are making decisions without me. Labour should also point out that private companies, and the new mutuals and social enterprises that Cameron wants created under the Right To provider policy, will not be accountable to the public. Labour should campaign that one of the qualifications of Any Qualified Provider should be to have board meetings in public and that non-executive directors of such organisations should be publicly elected - both of which will be rejected by the government, but it will bring to light the lack of public accountability with these organisations.
Creeping privatisation. Labour also must stop flirting with policies involving mutuals and social enterprises. By all means give staff more involvement in how an NHS service is run, but mutuals and social enterprises are not the way to do this because they are not publicly owned (and hence fail the public accountability requirement). Personally I would be happy for a Labour government to mandate that BMI, Spire, Netcare, etc should become social enterprises before they can do NHS work (fat chance!) but that should be the limit of social enterprise in the NHS. Labour should also campaign against Circle which is not a social enterprise (the mutual - profit-share - part of Circle is only 49.9% of the company so they are a majority profit making private company). Circle gives social enterprises a bad name, it is about time this was made abundantly clear by Labour.