At the last General Election I attended a meeting where the local Labour candidate, Ben Coleman, spoke. After the meeting one of his supporters handed me a list of five promises as to what Labour would do if elected, printed on a card the size of a credit card….
At least two of these NuLab pledges have already been broken. Instead of cutting NHS waiting lists by 100,000, waiting lists have risen by 4.5%, to 1.3 million. Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, has issued a revised promise to get the waiting lists down to the 1.1 million level they were at before the election last May, by April next year.
In order to achieve this, there would have to be an extra 700 operations a day conducted throughout the period. The NHS has been allocated an extra £400 million towards this — but as operations cost an average £1000 it is going to be tough. It would also require doctors and nurses to put in overtime on top of already long hours. They might not be inclined to do this just to met a target which looks at patching one area of the NHS in isolation, and where no longer-term solution is proposed. Concern has also been expressed by the Royal Colleges (medical and surgical) that the waiting-list target could not be achieved without distorting the clinical priorities of the health service.
One less scrupulous government approach would be to seek to free hospital beds by putting even more pressure on families and social services to care for those recovering from illness or operations. Their target might eventually be achieved, but at a cost which many who listened to Labour promises on the NHS would not have anticipated.
Another election pledge the government have yet to fulfill is that of reducing school class sizes. 35% of six to seven year olds are now in overcrowded classes….
No doubt the “five promises” were a great marketing ploy. The reality, however, is that Labour will cut corners in other areas to try and achieve them. Both the NHS and Education are systems in which a change in one area leads to changes in others; it is essential that we adopt an adequately funded and integrated strategy if we are to address the long-term problems in both of these areas. NuLab’s devious pledges may have won them votes in the short-term, but now the public are coming to realise that things aren’t quite as rosy….
By Pat Harrington