A Conservative government would cut the NHS “to the bone”, Labour claimed today, despite David Cameron’s pledge to safeguard the health budget.
Labour’s first poster of the election campaign sparked controversy because it showed an X-ray of a skeleton with the words: “Next time, they’ll cut to the bone…..The NHS can’t afford the Tory cuts plan.”
A Labour analysis of Wednesday’s Budget claimed that other developed countries that had made cuts at the same pace as George Osborne plans ended up reducing health spending. The report said equivalent cuts in the UK would amount to £7bn, having a disastrous impact on services and staffing levels.
Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, said Mr Osborne’s spending plans would mean cuts in the next three years almost twice the level of the past three. “The cuts to public services like police, defence and social care would be so deep they’d be almost impossible to achieve,” said Mr Balls. “People will conclude that to make their sums add up, the Tories will end up cutting the NHS.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, who unveiled the poster with Mr Balls in Harlow, said: “The Tories are completely silent on the NHS. They had nothing to offer it in the Budget and are desperate not to talk about it during the election campaign. It is clear that the NHS as we know it can’t survive five more years of the Tories.”
The Conservatives dismissed what officials called a Labour “scare story.” They pointed to Mr Cameron’s pledge to protect the NHS budget in real terms in the 2015-20 parliament, saying that spending would be £6.5bn higher in the 2015-16 financial year than in 2010. The Tories accused Labour of breaking its pledge not to run negative poster campaigns. Labour replied that it promised only not to run negative posters attacking Mr Cameron.
Doctors criticised the Labour poster. A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association (BMA) said: “What the NHS really needs is for politicians to stop using it as a political football. The BMA is calling for an end to political game playing with the NHS, and for politicians of all parties to focus on providing a long-term solution to the crisis facing our health service.”
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