THE starting gun had barely been fired on the December election before there was an appeal that the NHS should not be used as a "political weapon".

This was closely followed by the parties wading in with overheated promises to outspend their rivals on health, and dubious vows that a vote for them was the only way to save the NHS.

Firstly, it is impossible for an institution that absorbs as much taxpayer funding as the NHS - the single biggest public sector spend - to avoid becoming a political football in an election campaign.

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What would be better, however, is if any of the politicians were really grasping the issues that are causing the greatest harm to the health service and coming up with genuinely radical solutions.

Throwing money at it is only part of the fix, although the sustained underinvestment of the past decade must be reversed - and urgently.

The latest OECD report, published on November 7, found that the UK was spending 9.8 per cent of GDP on health, compared to 11.2% in France and Germany.

We have 2.8 doctors and 2.5 hospital beds per 1000 people compared to 4.3 and eight, respectively, in Germany.

We also have one of the lowest rates of MRI and CT scanners in the OECD - only Colombia, Costa Rica, Hungary and Mexico have fewer. The UK had nine CT scanners and seven MRI units per million people in 2017, compared to 65 and 14 respectively in Australia.

For all the talk of "record spending" on the NHS, in real-terms the NHS budget grew by just 1.5% a year on average between 2009/10 to 2018/19, compared to an overall annual average in the lifetime of the NHS of 3.7%.

If resources appear squeezed, that is why. But there have to be priorities beyond just increasing the budget.

Number one should be an end to the disastrous pensions policy which is already wreaking havoc by driving senior clinicians to retire earlier than planned or shun extra work designed to cut waiting times because doing so puts them at risk of ludicrously high tax bills.

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It cannot possibly be rational for the Treasury or beneficial to patients to charge doctors more in taxes than they ever earned from their overtime.

Proposals for a 'flexible' alternative do not go far enough and, on this, the next incumbent of Number 10 must listen to the profession.

Secondly, politicians need to look beyond pouring money into hospitals and give general practice and social care a bigger share of the pot.

It is a lot less glamorous, but it would do more to cut A&E overcrowding and bed blocking than almost any other initiative.