As the pre-election battle hots up, Labour’s latest health move is to pledge an investment of £1 billion into primary care over five years, to ensure that all cancer test results can be delivered in just one week.

The promise was unveiled in Labour’s health manifesto, Your personal NHS guarantee, which also outlines the party’s intent to protect frontline NHS spending and increase investment in vital areas of care, with the aid of a raise in National Insurance of one penny in the pound.

The manifesto is split into the party’s visions for a personal, preventative and empowered NHS, but a key strand focuses on Labour’s achievements in the reducing waiting times and improving standards to date, with certain health policies having now been cemented into legal rights for patients, including the right to see a specialist within 18 weeks of referral by a GP and to be seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks.

As a further sweetener to voters, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has gone a step further promising that all patients in England will receive cancer test results within just one week, in a commitment that will require “significant capital investment into primary care, as well as a clear national target and reform of the way in which GP practices work,” the manifesto explains.

But it warns that “the Tory risk of a return to long waits, as the NHS abandons all guarantees, targets and national standards, is very real,” and claims that, in a period of greater fiscal pressures, “only Labour has the policies and the will to prevent a return to the era of long waits and low standards”.

Party health chiefs go head-to-head over NHS
Meanwhile, current health secretary Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley and Liberal Democrats health spokesperson Norman Lamb went head-to-head in a battle over the National Health Service last week.

Around 200 healthcare professionals and health experts were given the opportunity to question the three health spokesmen at the election hustings event, hosted jointly by the Royal College of Nursing, The King’s Fund, NHS Confederation and the British Medical Association, and was chaired by BBC Radio 4 presenter Sarah Montague.

On the political football of private sector involvement in the health service, BMA council chairman Hamish Meldrum questioned the three parties’ continued use of commercial companies for NHS provision “despite the evidence that this leads to fragmentation and increased costs and it is very unpopular with the public”.

The health secretary defended the policy to date, saying that capacity has been increased “a lot” and that “it was right to bring new providers in and give people the choice and help the NHS”.

However, he said that now Labour is looking to do things differently and “give the NHS the first chance to do things”, which is “commonsense policy for the new era we are entering, and it will give stability”.

Lansley, however, stuck to his party’s belief in the policy of leaning on the private sector to improve care. “Patients have every right to expect the NHS to secure the best possible care wherever that might be, and that might mean NHS care in NHS institutions. But it might mean care provided by others, and there are many good examples of that,” he said.

All three reportedly said they would protect the NHS from front-line job cuts and, pledged improvements to service efficiency and instilling a culture more focused on preventing ill health to help reduce pressure on resources.