Labour claims Tories would destroy the NHS as election campaign begins in earnest

The performance of North East Ambulance service came under the spotlight as parties clashed over health and public finances

Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband

Labour highlighted the pressure facing North East ambulance service as all the major parties began campaigning for May’s General Election in earnest.

Party leader Ed Miliband claimed a Conservative government would destroy the NHS “as we know it” in a hard-hitting speech describing the poll as a “a once in a generation fight”.

Labour has published a series of documents which it says reveals “five years of Tory failure on the NHS”, including the failure of North East Ambulance Service to meet response time targets.

In a pattern likely to continue until polling day on May 7, Mr Miliband focused on the NHS while Conservatives claimed Labour could not be trusted to run the economy and keep public finances under control.

And Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, issued a plea to voters to back his party - arguing that another hung Parliament, giving his party a role in a Coalition government, would prevent “extremes of left or right” damaging the country.

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
 

Labour has published a series of documents designed to illustrate that the NHS is in crisis, including a warning that ambulance trusts are failing to meet a target of responding to “category A” calls, those classed as life threatening, within eight minutes.

The party highlighted the case of a six year old girl with a suspected broken back who waited for three hours before an ambulance arrived in Sunderland, in October.

Official NHS figures used by Labour show that North East Ambulance Service succeeds in responding to 65.9%of the most serious emergency calls, such as those involving cardiac arrests, within eight minutes.

The service has been open about the difficulties it faces, officially upgrading its operational status to “severe pressure” in December and urging the public only to dial 999 in a genuine emergency.

North East Ambulance Service ambulance
North East Ambulance Service ambulance
 

A North East Ambulance Service spokesman said: “When looking at red performance as a whole in October, our average response time was 8 minutes and 45 seconds. Throughout October we attended 15,747 incidents classified as red, which accounted for 49 per cent of our overall activity, therefore placing significant pressure on our service.

“We recognise that 65.9% is below target and this is not where we would like to be. Like ambulance services across the country we are currently under severe pressure, and in December we raised our Resource Escalation Action Plan from Level 3 to 4 to reflect this.”

Roberta-Blackman Woods MP, Labour MP for City of Durham MP said: “The choice at this election is absolutely clear. The NHS will not survive five more years of treatment at the hands of David Cameron. It’s getting harder to see a GP, nurses have been cut, our ambulance service is struggling and waiting times are going up.

Roberta Blackman-Woods
Roberta Blackman-Woods

“Only a Labour victory in May will make the NHS be better off. We will invest an extra £2.5 billion for more nurses, doctors, care workers and midwives, guarantee that you will not have to wait more than a week for a cancer test or 48 hours for a GP appointment.”

Tories claimed a Labour government would cause economic chaos, and accused the party of making unfunded spending commitments amounting to £20.7 billion.

However, the figures were challenged by Labour. They include £3.3 billion to “cancel local authority cuts” - although Labour has made it clear it is not promising to reverse those cuts.

Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, said: “The election may be just over a hundred days away but the choice for the North East is already clear.

Conservative MP Guy Opperman
Conservative MP Guy Opperman
 

“Unemployment is down by 36% right across the North East. The number of young people in the North East with an apprenticeship was 30,000 last year compared, to just 13,000 a decade ago.”

He added: “The facts clearly show that the tough choices the Government has taken are working to get more people back into work. Labour has opposed every single one of those tough choices and would put our regional economy at risk.”

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Labour wanted to borrow more, while Conservatives wanted “to remorselessly cut the money for public services even after the deficit has been eliminated”.

Julie Pörksen, Lib Dem candidate in marginal Berwick-upon-Tweed, said: “Liberal Democrats have done a good job of moderating the right-wing tendency in this Government.

“They have bought a dose of humanity and fairness which would be at risk in a Conservative majority government.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer