General Election 2015: Parties lose their bedside manner as they clash over NHS

Miliband and Cameron vie to be saviour of the health service in war of words about costings

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Labour and the Tories have gone to war over the NHS, after David Cameron’s pledge of £8bn extra for the health service by 2020 was undermined by footage of him warning that “unfunded spending commitments” would “wreck the NHS”.

The Prime Minister tried to out-do Ed Miliband by announcing the extra cash that Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has said is needed to prevent services being cut. Labour has pledged a lower figure, £2.5bn extra a year, funded by the mansion tax, a levy on tobacco companies and anti-tax avoidance measures. A leading independent health organisation pointed out that Labour was the only party not to meet the £8bn target, which it said was “worrying”.

The Lib Dems have promised to meet the £8bn target through cutting tax reliefs, but the Tories have said they will not set out how they will raise the £8bn until after the election. Labour unearthed footage of Mr Cameron at PMQs in January, in which he warned against uncosted spending commitments for the NHS. He said at the time: “The real risk to the NHS is the risk of unfunded spending commitments bringing chaos to our economy, which would wreck our NHS. That is the risk and that is why the choice at the election will be to stick with the people with a long-term plan, not a Labour Party that would wreck our economy and wreck our NHS.”

Labour seized on the comments, with Mr Miliband saying at the launch of his health manifesto in Manchester, in which he unveiled plans for one-to-one midwifery care: “The truth is that you can’t save the NHS if you don’t know where the money is coming from. You can only damage the NHS when you are planning colossal cuts in public spending, year on year on year, which is what the Tories are planning. The bottom line is this: you can’t fund the NHS on an IOU.”

But a Tory source said the Government’s record should speak for itself: “Labour said five years ago we couldn’t increase funding for NHS, reduce the deficit and create jobs. They’re saying the same again today. Our response is: judge us on our track record – NHS spending this year is £7.3bn higher in real terms than it was in 2010-11; we cut the deficit by half as a proportion of GDP; and we’ve created nearly two million jobs.

“We’ve done it over the past five years – and we can do it again over the next five years.”

The NHS will continue to be one of the biggest issues of the election, with 25 days to go until polling day. Mr Cameron will try to fire up the Conservative campaign with a speech in Cheltenham, ahead of his party’s manifesto launch. But candidates are alarmed that the Tory campaign, masterminded by Lynton Crosby, has been too negative, which includes Michael Fallon’s highly personal attack on Mr Miliband last week. Tory jitters were not helped by a poll showing the Labour leader’s personal ratings had overtaken Mr Cameron’s for the first time, and Tim Montgomerie, founder of the grassroots ConservativeHome website, asked Twitter for ideas to “rejig” the Tory campaign.

As part of the Tory fightback, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “After an incompetent and chaotic response from Labour about how they would fund the NHS, it is now clear that Ed Miliband will not match our commitment to provide the NHS with the funding it needs – resources that we will deliver through a stronger economy.

“Ed Miliband has no plan to grow our economy – that’s why he will put the future of our NHS at risk, just as Labour have done in Wales.”

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