LONDON — The U.K.’s Labour Party on Wednesday promised a “rescue plan” for the National Health Service as a major part of its election pitch, pledging a £26 billion cash injection over five years.
The opposition party is taking a leaf from its 2017 election playbook and trying to make sure the upcoming December 12 ballot focuses not just on Brexit, but also other issues the party considers its strengths.
With the NHS shaping up as a key battleground, Labour says its pledge for health is £6 billion in real terms more than the Conservative government’s funding plan through to 2023-24.
According to the latest polls, Labour is trailing the Conservative party by 11 percentage points.
The Conservative party last week announced an “NHS visa,” including reduced costs and a marginally quicker processing time for doctors and nurses.
Unveiling Labour’s plans Wednesday, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the party would also bring back training bursaries for nurses and expand GP training places — funded in part by increasing taxation on Britain’s highest earners.
With new immigration controls after Brexit expected to significantly hit NHS staffing, Ashworth didn’t directly respond when asked whether Labour would allow freedom of movement for NHS staff — instead emphasizing a need for international recruitment to continue.
“If [a health service department] believes that a nurse or a surgeon is qualified enough to come to this country to care for our sick and our elderly they should be allowed to come to this country to care for our sick and our elderly,” he said.
Labour’s announcement was broadly welcomed by health groups, with the Nuffield Trust’s Chief Executive Nigel Edwards saying the increase would “make a big difference” compared to the 1.4 percent average growth in spending in recent years.
However, Edwards cautioned: “Extreme staff shortages are the greatest problem facing the NHS.”
UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
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