Getting behind the headlines - what will the outcome of the General Election mean for the NHS?
General Elections can be full of outrage, hype and overexcited commentators. It’s also a time when political opinion is often forced through letter boxes, yelled through megaphones, tweeted, snap-chatted and Face-booked. But what does a General Election tell us about different policy priorities? The headlines will be shouted from the roof tops – a growing economy, scrapping the bedroom tax, a referendum on withdrawal from the EU, more powers for Scotland, and higher employment.
And as for the NHS – we have already heard Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health chief, promising to repeal parts of the Health and Social Care Act, the Liberal Democrats pledging extra funding for mental health, the SNP saying they will intervene on English NHS issues and the Conservatives making a promise to deliver access to GPs 7 days a week by 2020.
So there are some significant differences between the political parties. And, if we believe the pollsters, then we are heading for another five years of coalition government – and that will mean compromises.
The one common theme between all the parties is the need to increase NHS budgets. Where the funding will be targeted does vary slightly – the Lib Dems favour mental health and carers for special treatment, Labour will invest in more nurses, midwives, GPs and care workers and the Conservatives favour more GPs.
The major differences are not always driven by evidence-based care and long term thinking but by political ideology and the desire to win votes. This has led the British Medical Association to warn the parties against short term electioneering and ‘point scoring.’ See http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/16/bma-tells-politicians-play-games-nhs-election-doctors
It references Labour’s resistance to the use of the private sector. While private involvement was expanded under the last Labour Government, the party has recently developed a strong anti-private sector narrative. In addition Labour has pledged to deliver “Whole Person Care” by single commissioning – a policy Andy Burnham championed when in Government.
The Conservatives’ pledge to ring-fence NHS spending and provide a £2 Billion ‘down-payment’ comes at a time when surveys show public distrust of the party on NHS matters. They also continue their drive to distance the Department of Health from ‘hands on’ management and entrench the position that Ministers are the guardians of the public interest. This is manifested by their pledge to cap redundancy payments to NHS and other public sector staff.
The Liberal Democrats’ headline policy to invest in mental health and carers reflects the party’s core support, the influence of party members on policy and the preoccupations of their Health Minister Norman Lamb. They are also policies which could find favour within Coalition negotiations.
Meanwhile the Greens have an interesting and ambitious mix of policies which mainly centre on diverting funding from central facilities towards Community Health Centres which includes winding up Foundation Trusts. UKIP focus on issues such as ending hospital parking charges and forcing overseas visitors and recent migrants to have health insurance.
So as the struggle for votes brings consensus on increased NHS funding and investment in primary care – what will it really mean for the future of NHS and better patient care?
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