Miliband promises to make NHS priority

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Media captionEd Miliband spoke to me while on a visit to a hospital in Crewe

Ed Miliband recently spent two eight-hour shifts shadowing staff at Watford General hospital. He says this made him impatient to become prime minister and take charge of the NHS (in England at least).

I travelled to Crewe with the Labour leader as he highlighted a promise to ease the pressure on hospitals by making it easier for people to see their GP - restoring one of those NHS targets which the coalition scrapped - a guarantee that patients can see their family doctor within 48 hours.

I put it to Ed Miliband that this idea - when it was first floated - was dismissed by the Royal College of GPs as "ill-thought-out and a kneejerk response".

It warned that in the past the target had distorted the smooth running of general practice. Mr Miliband insisted that it was right to set standards and it was what the recent increase in waiting times demanded.

Broadcast plan

Labour is promising to find the £100m to pay for this pledge - something the Royal College has welcomed - from within existing budgets (by cutting the cost of the lawyers and bureaucrats who police competition in the NHS).

The respected King's Fund recently declared that it was "essential that politicians of all parties are honest about the scale of pressures facing the NHS".

So I asked Mr Miliband about the pressure on him to promise to spend a lot more and pledge to raise taxes to do it.

Again and again he replied that this was not the time to set out his tax and spending plans and that, instead, his focus had to be on getting the best value from existing budgets.

Labour is planning an election broadcast showing its leader covering a shift at Watford General.

He didn't treat any patients - he reassured me that he didn't carry out any brain surgery - but he says he learnt a great deal about how the health service should work from the ground up.

It is telling that the party wants to talk about health, even though these are elections for the European Parliament and local council - which do not, of course, control the NHS.