Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has pledged to tax tobacco companies, hedge funds and homes worth more than £2 million to create a “truly world-class 21st century health and care service” in Britain.
Speaking at the party’s conference in Manchester, Mr Miliband said to a packed hall: ”Let’s face it friends, those services are creaking” before listing some of the problems. “One in four people can’t get to see their GP within a week”, he said, and “we’ve had the scandal of home care visits for the elderly restricted to just 15 minutes”.
He then promised that “we will set aside resources so that we can have in our NHS 3,000 more midwives, 5,000 more care workers, 8,000 more GPs and 20,000 more nurses. An NHS with time to care”.
In order to pay for it, “we won’t borrow an extra penny or raise taxes on ordinary working families”, Mr Miliband said. A Labour government would clamp down on tax avoidance including loopholes by the hedge funds to raise over £1 billion and use proceeds from a mansion tax on homes above £2 million. Extra cash would come from the tobacco companies “who make soaring profits on the back of ill health”.
£2.5 billion NHS 'time to care' fund
In total some £2.5 billion would be used for an NHS ‘time to care’ fund. Warning delegates what “another five years of David Cameron would mean for our NHS”, Mr Miliband stated that “we built the NHS. We saved the NHS. We are going to repeal the Health and Social Care Bill and we are going to transform our NHS for the future”.
The response to Mr Miliband’s speech from healthcare professionals has been pretty positive. In relation to the announcement of 8,000 more GPs, the Royal College of General Practioners chair, Maureen Baker, said it represented “a clear and impressive response to the crisis currently engulfing general practice”, saying that that “unless urgent measures are put in place [the latter] as we know it faces extinction, due to soaring patient demand, plummeting resources and a mass exodus of clinical staff”.
She added that “we are particularly pleased that this announcement is part of a wider package that includes the recruitment of more practice nurses, district nurses and home care.
The British Medical Association’s GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul said a commitment to employ more GPs would be vital for addressing the soaring demand but warned that “we must first address the challenge of getting more doctors to choose to become GPs at a time of falling recruitment and increasing numbers retiring early”. He added that “the figures speak for themselves — a fall of 15% in the number of doctors training as GPs last year, and 451 training places unfilled”.
Politicians acknowledge scale of problem
Over at The King’s Fund, chief executive Chris Ham said Mr Miliband’s speech “shows politicians are now acknowledging the scale of the financial problem facing health and social care”. He added that “Labour’s commitment to transform the way care is delivered, not just to focus on the immediate funding crisis, is welcome”, but warned that “we will need to see Labour's spending plans in full before we know whether they will be enough to meet the funding gap”.
Mr Ham made reference to the recently-published Barker report which suggested that a range of measures from a review of wealth taxes, changes to prescription charges and National Insurance increases could all play a part. “These are hard choices while the public finances are still recovering but they cannot be ducked in the lead-up to the general election”, he concluded.
Unsurprisingly the Government was less impressed by the Labour chief’s pledges and chancellor George Osborne tweeted that “Ed Miliband didn't mention the deficit once. Extraordinary. If you can't fix the economy, you can't fund the NHS”.