Political parties using NHS to win votes, poll suggests

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Image caption The government and Labour defended their approaches to the NHS

Nearly three quarters of the public believe the political parties are designing health policy to win votes, and not what is best for the NHS, a poll has suggested.

The survey of almost 2,000 people in the UK found 73% were sceptical about the motivation of politicians.

One in four also said they were dissatisfied with the way the NHS was being run.

The survey was commissioned by the British Medical Association (BMA).

The poll carried out by Ipsos Mori also found two-thirds wanted the NHS to manage itself without the involvement of politicians.

Another 46% also said politicians should have low or no involvement in how the NHS is run.

That was one of the aims of the reforms introduced by Andrew Lansley when he was health secretary.

But commentators have noted that since Jeremy Hunt has replaced him there has been a push to retain a much more hands-on approach.


The poll was released at the start of the BMA's annual conference, which is being held in Harrogate.

BMA leader Dr Mark Porter said: "The government promised to remove micromanagement from the NHS and yet the opposite has happened.

"There are even claims that NHS England, set up to be independent of Whitehall, is being manipulated for political purposes."

He also mentioned a key policy put forward by Labour - the pledge to offer GP appointments within 48 hours - adding: "Patient care is taking a back seat to scoring points over the dispatch box."

Dr Porter said "doctors want to see politics taken out of the NHS once and for all", saying it was "clear that the public feel the same way".

He went on to accuse the government of wasting money on "untested policies" and promised doctors would continue to "fight" for what was right for the NHS in the lead up to the election.

Both the government and Labour party defended their approaches.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: "Our reforms cut unnecessary red tape and gave doctors and nurses, who know their patients best, the power and freedom to make decisions in the best interests of their local community."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Labour said access to GPs was a real problem and its plans, which include additional funding, were a "serious" attempt to improve services.

Seven-day services

Doctors at the conference also raised concerns about the push to create seven-day hospital services in England.

The move - set out by NHS England last year - involves improving access to a whole range of urgent and emergency services on a Saturday and Sunday over the next three years with the idea that more routine services, such as non-emergency operations, could follow afterwards.

A motion passed at the conference said extra resources and payments for anti-social hours would be needed.

Anaesthetist Dr Robert Harwood, of the BMA's consultants committee, said: "We have real reservations what whether it can be afforded within the current budget."

Bruce Hughes, a member of the BMA's GP committee, attacked the idea of a "24 hours a day seven day a week utopia which is just for the sake of a political gimmick". He accused politicians of policy by soundbite, saying the plan was "a pathetic attempt to get re-elected in 12 months".

He said: "You don't expect routine appointments with your lawyer or accountant on Sunday evening."

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