Whatever Labour's failings in economic policy it left behind a much improved National Health Service (NHS).
• The share of the nation's resources devoted to health care had risen from one of the lowest among advanced economies to near parity. The share of the GDP devoted to health care – public and private – had risen from 6.6 per cent when Blair took office to 9.6 per cent in 2010.
• The length of time patients had to wait for non-urgent procedures had fallen dramatically. It had never been so low. The number waiting for more than six months had fallen from 400,000 in mid-1998 to essentially nil by 2010 and those waiting three months from 700,000 to 7,000. Staffing levels had risen and physical plant had been modernized on a scale not seen since the 1960s.
• There was even some reduction in some health inequalities.
As a result the NHS was enjoying unprecedented public support. The British Social Attitudes Survey showed overall satisfaction with the NHS was standing at 74 per cent in 2010 compared to only 39 per cent in 2001.
This posed a challenge to any incoming government bent on curbing public spending. But it also eased their task somewhat. The NHS was not on the rocks. It had some room for doing things more effectively.
The party manifestos
The Conservative manifesto promised that a future Conservative government would ‘increase health spending in real terms every year’. It would ‘strengthen the powers of GPs as patients' expert guides through the health care system … putting them in charge of commissioning local services’. It would ‘scrap politically motivated targets’. It would ‘create an independent NHS board to allocate resources and provide commissioning guidelines’.
The Liberal Democrats promised that they would ‘Cut the size of the Department of Health by half’ and ‘scrap Strategic Health Authorities’.