Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy (right) supported a damning report into the National Health Service (NHS) after a recent BBC Panorama programme highlighted figures that suggested Britain has the worst cancer survival rates of any its European Union (EU) neighbours.
Kennedy told voters his party was the only one to be trusted to “revive” the NHS. He said: “The NHS has not only been let down by Labour but abandoned by the Tories.”
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, said: “At the start of the 21st century, the UK has worse cancer survival rates than our EU neighbours – more like those in Eastern Europe.
“This should come as no surprise to us. We have only half the number of doctors of our neighbours as well. And we spend so much less of our national wealth on health than other countries.”
Kennedy said: “During the course of this campaign, we have been the only party spelling out that the future of the NHS is worth fighting for.”
Baroness Lindsay Northover, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman in the House of Lords, said: “Most NHS staff are stressed out and overworked. Vacancies have steadily risen because the Tories failed to plan and Labour failed to invest in their first three years in office. There are now not enough staff and not enough training places. Priority has been given to cancer and cardiac care only at the expense of other vital services.
“Concentrating on cutting in-patient waiting times has meant huge increases in the numbers of people waiting just to see a consultant.”
Labour came under fire by UK orthodontists who have accused Labour of “rationing children’s dentistry on the quiet”. This will mean thousands of children will be unable to get their crooked teeth straightened on the NHS under government plans to ration orthodontic work.
Treatment would be limited to children with problems that endangered their health according to last November’s proposals put forward in the NHS document Modernising Orthodontic Services.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The strategy aims to better target resources and shorten waiting times, not make savings.”
Aside from this, the support of three health professionals was enlisted to endorse the message that Labour is putting schools and hospitals first.
Health secretary Alan Milburn said the party is committed to sustained investment in public services. “There is not a single one of [the] patients, nurses, doctors or managers that I or Tony have met who believes that the answer to the problems in the NHS lies in less investment rather than more,” he said.
Health professionals Sue Page, the chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare Trust, Dr David Kerr, a clinical oncologist, and Sandra Samuels, a theatre sister, each endorsed the government’s programme of NHS reform.
Page said: “I quite honestly don’t see another party with a strategy like the NHS Plan. What we need to see is more reform and to make sure that the pledged money gets to the front line.”
The Conservatives scorned Labour’s handling of the NHS, suggesting manipulation of waiting list statistics and ambitiously pledged to scrap NHS waiting lists within a week of taking office, as well as caring for the elderly more efficiently than Labour.
Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said that it was hardly “a surprise” that the National Audit Office report found that hospital waiting list figures had been massaged to make them look shorter and dismissed Labour’s handling of the NHS as “a toxic mixture of interference, incompetence and arrogance.”
Hague criticised Labour’s pledge to reduce waiting lists by 100,000 and argued that Labour’s health policy distorted clinical priorities and encouraged physicians to treat minor complaints at the expense of the needs of sicker patients.
He said: “Instead, we would give consultants the right to set a maximum waiting time for treatment, starting with cancer and cardiac services, and use the savings in bureaucracy to increase support for hospice care.”
He said his party offered the UK a “well-funded health service that champions, rather than thwarts, the doctors and nurses that work in it”.
Fox criticised Labour for not addressing the issue of long term care (LTC) for the elderly and reminded voters that Blair said that it was an “obscenity” for older people to be forced to sell their homes to pay for LTC, yet 160,000 have had to do “just that”.
He said “considerable suffering” had been inflicted on huge numbers of older people and pledged that the next Conservative government would “address these injustices”.