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General Election

Reflecting on electing

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 6th May 2010

Today, as people queue at polling booths around the country, I wonder how much they will be influenced by the health policies of the main political parties. You would hope that it has a big bearing on people’s voting choices as the NHS is the UK’s biggest employer with a 1.5 million-strong workforce responsible for the health of 60 million people. Both the Lancet and the BMJ have tried to tease out what the different parties are offering over the last couple of weeks.

A Lancet editorial looks at how the three main parties fare in achieving aims of “better services”, “fairer services”, “protecting health” and “advancing health”. It concludes that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats lead over Labour in terms of “fairer services” but Labour is likely to deliver better services and is ahead in terms of global health policy. There are many similarities between the health manifestos of the three main parties but the more you analyse, the less detail you find, particularly regarding how the NHS will be funded in difficult economic times and how limited resources will be allocated. This vagueness is there in the manifestos of the smaller parties as well.

There have been many calls to bring evidence to the realm of policy making, but it is difficult to find objective evidence-based statements in the policy documents of three major parties. This lack of evidence means that voter decisions are less likely to be based on facts, and are more likely to be influenced by political spin. For example, it is impossible to escape the political football that is cancer care, kicked from Labour to Conservatives throughout this election campaign, but data about how services will be funded, or how the burden of cancer compares with burden of other diseases in the UK is lacking. There is little or no mention of cost-effectiveness of drugs. This information is available in the public domain, but it is barely ever quoted, and, as far as I can tell, evidence-based medicine is not mentioned in any of the manifestos. Instead we get politicised promises of “an appointment within a week” by Labour versus “access to more cancer drugs” under Conservatives. You can only be an informed voter if there is good quality information from all the political parties.

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