LONDON — Boris Johnson wants to steal the U.K.’s National Health Service from Labour.
Armed with his 80-seat majority, the prime minister is planning the biggest shake-up of the country’s widely loved and politically potent health system in decades. He wants to persuade voters that the Conservatives can be trusted to look after what many regard as a national treasure.
In his victory speech Friday, Johnson said that the NHS will be the No. 1 priority for his government after Brexit. The scale of Johnson’s victory means Tories could make big changes to the system, at least in England — health care in Scotland and Northern Ireland is devolved to the local administrations.
If he succeeds, he could co-opt an issue that has traditionally been an Achilles’ heel for the Tories.
“We need a long-term plan for the whole of health and social care which is bold, and confident and ambitious,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock in a speech Wednesday. “And when we look back in 2030 to this moment, this once in a generation opportunity, where a political commitment and the financial resources are in perfect alignment with the overwhelming public mandate, I want us to be able to say ‘yes, we got it right.’”
No free lunch
The U.K. is one of a few European countries where people have no out-of-pocket costs for treatment, whether urgent or non-urgent. If you need health care, you can walk into a hospital, or be taken by free ambulance, and get it — no need for insurance and (by and large) no payments. The state covers the bill.
The service was created in the aftermath of World War II by the Labour government of Clement Attlee.