This week, a string of polls has indicated a narrowing of the Conservative poll lead over Labour. The most significant convergence in support for the two major parties was shown in a YouGov poll published on Tuesday suggesting that the Conservatives’ lead had reduced to as little as 3%, giving Labour its highest poll rating since 2014 of 39%. YouGov also released a seat by seat projection of the election, based on a range of data sources, which contends there could be a hung parliament, suggesting the Conservatives could reduce from 330 seats to 317 and Labour could gain 24 MPs to have 253 seats. This projection has been greeted with trepidation, with many commentators still anticipating a Conservative majority, albeit a significantly smaller one than was predicted at the beginning of the election campaign – many factors, including turnout, will impact the final result.
SNP manifesto published
The SNP has published their general election manifesto this week, after the release was delayed following the suspension of campaigning activity after the Manchester attack. The manifesto resolutely repeats the party’s intention to hold a second independence referendum following the conclusion of Brexit negotiations, stating that “a vote for the SNP will also strengthen Scotland’s right to choose our own future.” On health and social care, the SNP pledge to:
- Increase the budget for the Scottish NHS by £2 billion by the end of the current term of the Scottish Parliament, as already pledged;
- Argue in Westminster for an increase in England’s health spending to match Scottish spending – equating to more than £11 billion of additional funding – and “ensure that any consequential funding from this goes to Scotland’s health service.”
Reform primary care and increase its share of the total NHS budget in Scotland, alongside an additional £1.7 billion of investment for Scotland’s health and social care partnerships.
The King’s Fund releases quarterly NHS monitoring report
The King’s Fund has published its quarterly NHS monitoring report for the last quarter of the 2016/17 financial year, which concludes that there are still concerns on the health service’s financial position which could impact service provision over the coming months. When surveyed in April 46% of trust finance directors and 31% of CCG finance directors were “very concerned” about the financial outturn for next year; and 87% and 79% of finance directors thought there was a high or very high risk that productivity gains required by the Five Year Forward View would not be met.
The report also highlighted improvements in A&E waiting times in March 2017 compared with March 2016, with the suggestion that if performance for March 2017 is matched in the coming months, the NHS will meet the target to return to 90% of patients being seen in A&E within four hours. There was further gradual deterioration in waiting time performance over 2016/17, and a warning that “a small number of commissioners are re-considering their plans for 2017/18 and may try to cut back on elective activity.” The chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, said that “It cannot be fair that patients in half of England will wait longer for certain operations – many in pain and discomfort – as the NHS cuts costs. Some patients won’t get treatment at all as the postcode lottery in care is entrenched.”
NHS could spend £500m more on pensioners returning to UK after Brexit
The health think tank the Nuffield Trust has published a general election briefing on ‘Getting a Brexit deal that works for the NHS’, which warns that without guaranteeing reciprocal healthcare arrangements for British pensioners living in the EU, the NHS could face a bill of £500 million to pay for their care in the UK. The report warns that if the 190,000 British pensioners living abroad returned, additional bed capacity equivalent to two new hospitals would be required, and the NHS would have to pay twice as much for their care as they currently do – bringing the bill up to £1 billion from £500 million.
Nuffield Trust policy analyst Mark Dugan highlighted that while additional NHS funding could be found from the membership fees recouped from the EU, “whether or not these benefits will outweigh the significant staffing and financial costs Brexit may impose on already stretched [NHS] services remains to be seen.” The BMA’s chair Dr Mark Porter also warned that staff shortages arising from Brexit could adversely affect patient care.