Election countdown: why the NHS must be at the heart of every party manifesto

Saffron Cordery profile picture

03 June 2024

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive
NHS Providers

While the Prime Minister's general election announcement took almost everyone by surprise, the focus on the NHS so early in the campaign won't have come as a shock especially to trust leaders.

Poll after poll has confirmed that 'fixing' the NHS is voters' top concern. One week into the campaign and the health service, unsurprisingly, found itself front and centre of the debate with political parties already pledging to cut waiting times and improve access to treatment.

But this is just the beginning. With manifestos yet to be published, we'll have to wait to get a clearer idea about what each of the political parties envisages for the future of our health service.

One of the top priorities must be resolving the long-running dispute with junior doctors over their pay, terms and conditions. The announcement of a five-day walkout just days before the general election will deal another blow to trust leaders' efforts to bring down waiting times for patients.

What this strike action by junior doctors tells us is that no one should take the NHS workforce for granted. We simply can't run the health service without staff: with more than 110,000 vacant jobs across the NHS in England, we need to recruit and retain a workforce with the right skills in the right places, equipped with up-to-date facilities and the technology they need to deliver high-quality, safe care.

But this is only part of the picture. NHS staff also need supportive and positive workplace cultures to provide the best possible experiences and outcomes for patients. That's why nurturing a thriving health and care workforce is one of five shared commitments in trust leaders' 'prescription' for the general election and beyond.

A picture of health: delivering the next generation NHSsets out how trust leaders want to work with politicians, patients and communities to improve health and care for all and reduce inequalities; build a new infrastructure programme for the NHS; champion a culture of openness, improvement and innovation; and provide care in the right place at the right time.

These are shared commitments recognising that every part of the health and care system, at every level, has a role to play.

Trust leaders know better than most that through collaborating with partners across health and care, the NHS and the government can create a healthy, equitable and productive society for the future.

All political parties must now commit to creating an NHS which serves the population as it is and will be rather than as it was when founded in 1948. An NHS which is nimble in deploying its people, its resources, its partnerships and its technology. An NHS which is responsive to health needs, but which is not solely responsible for them.

An NHS which wins the trust of the people it serves and the staff it employs. An NHS which helps drive national productivity, and which government, parliament – and most importantly the electorate – can robustly hold to account and endorse.

It seems prescient that the NHS' 76th birthday falls the day after the election. So with the starting gun for the election now fired, we must rally around our ‘next generation' NHS and create a health service fit for the next 76 years and beyond. 

This opinion piece was first published by the National Health Executive

About the author

Saffron Cordery profile picture

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive

Saffron has been NHS Providers deputy chief executive since 2018, and between June 2022 – February 2023 was interim chief executive. She has worked in the healthcare sector since 2007. Read more