Are parties thinking big on the NHS?

Jeremy Corbyn meets nurses on a visit to St Thomas' Hospital in London Image copyright PA

There can't have been much question in the minds of the huge crowd which turned out in force to see Jeremy Corbyn in Yorkshire today about who should be in charge of the NHS.

The service was created by the Labour Party and ever since, it's been seen politically as "theirs".

Labour leader after Labour leader has used the party's historic link with the NHS as an important political dividing line with the Conservatives.

And for the Tories in turn, trying to reduce the public's scepticism about their attitude to the health service has been a huge task. Remember how much David Cameron talked about the NHS? One of his first big campaigns as Tory leader was centred entirely around the service.

And speech after speech, campaign after campaign, he tried to detoxify the impression that the Tories simply couldn't be trusted with nurses and doctors. Part of that was the political decision to protect, or ring fence the NHS budget from cuts, while other parts of the public sector were having their budgets sliced.

But now pressure on the NHS is really starting to bite. For diehard Labour supporters there is just no question about who can look after the service.

And the party's announcement today of an extra £37bn for the NHS in England over five years, roughly an extra 7% every year, is a traditional kind of commitment - billions more go in, Labour outflanking the Tories on public spending.

It's not completely clear, however, how all of the £37bn would be spent. I asked the man who wants to be the health secretary in four weeks time, Jonathan Ashworth.

He outlined £10bn more for infrastructure, extra cash for patient care to get waiting lists back down, £500m for a winter crisis fund, an end to the public sector pay cap, and new targets too.

But while Labour has not yet detailed every single part of its plans, like mental health for example, he couldn't therefore account for every penny of that huge extra sum he wants taxpayers to stump up for.

Nor was he able to give final details on how it would be paid for. Labour is publishing its manifesto on Tuesday, and it's only then that their plans for taxation will become fully clear.

We do know Labour will introduce new taxes for higher earners, the top 5%, and according to Mr Ashworth "every single penny" will go towards the health service.

But until the full details of their economic plans are clear it's just not possible to see if their sums really add up on the NHS, or anything else.

Even senior members of the Shadow Cabinet have still not been given full details of the proposals. Mr Ashworth says they would expect more back from the service in return for more funding. But it's notable that what Labour is promising is essentially more cash, and more targets.

At a time when some are calling for a fundamental rethink, there is not much sign that either of the two big parties are looking at radical rethinks.

PS There are rumours the Conservatives may also promise some more cash for NHS when they launch their manifesto later in the week. I understand the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has been pushing for extra money. Watch this space.

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