“Health is always discussed on the doorsteps in general election campaigns.
Labour has long seen the NHS as its defining electoral issue.
The Conservatives have tried hard to demonstrate their commitment with pledges in recent years of above-inflation investment.
But how much difference will it make this time in a campaign that is sure to be dominated by Brexit?
Polling suggests the state of the NHS is high on people’s list of concerns.
An Ipsos/Mori survey in January in association with the Economist showed that 49% of respondents considered it to be one of the biggest issues facing Britain, up nine percentage points since December and the highest level recorded since April 2003.
This was slightly ahead of the proportion (41%) seeing the EU and Brexit as a major issue. Immigration was next on the list, though lower than in December.
The same survey just before the general election in May 2015 had the economy, the NHS and immigration bunched quite closely together as issues of the highest public concern.
The latest snapshot has the NHS pulling ahead of both. But the key question is whether what people tell the pollsters are key issues translates into voting intentions.
The King’s Fund think tank recently analysed the British Social Attitudes survey taken across England, Scotland and Wales and found that public satisfaction with the NHS was high at 63%, little changed from 2015.
It is worth pointing out, though, that this polling was carried out in the summer and early autumn of 2016 before the latest bout of winter pressures.
The general election health debate will be about England as governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their health services and they have no elections this time.
Labour made health a central plank of its 2015 election campaign. Andy Burnham, then the party’s health spokesman, spoke out forcefully about the pressures on hospitals over the preceding winter. He also accused the Conservatives of encouraging privatisation of the NHS, which they in turn denied.
But this failed to cut through, as the Tories achieved a majority.
This time Labour is stressing that health will again be central to its campaigning effort.”