With just weeks to go before the General Election, Assura's Andrew Darke reveals how the major parties are getting closer to a healthcare consensus than ever before
In this article, Andrew Darke, managing director of property at Assura, argues why 2015 could be the year primary care providers have been waiting for
We’re now less than a month away from the general election, with three weeks to digest each manifesto and decide who will lead us for the next five years.
Despite the ‘political football’ accusations being levelled from both sides, the major parties are actually closer to a healthcare consensus than they have been for years.
This is made more interesting by the prospect of another coalition, as the attention is not only focused on individual party policies, but how they might operate in partnership with their competitors.
This requires a slight change of tack from the political candidates, as each party must expound its own unique belief system while also demonstrating its capability of working successfully with those it traditionally opposes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pre-election discussion of health and social care.
As with all preceding political elections, each party is being examined and distinguished from the others by its treatment of the health services. The efforts made by political commentators to distill each candidate’s health policies to one particular ideology have been out in full force this week, hoping to help the nation’s voters discern which vision for the future of the NHS most closely resembles their own.
This year, however, there is an encouraging difference. Despite the ‘political football’ accusations being levelled from both sides, the major parties are actually closer to a healthcare consensus than they have been for years. This is because this year has seen a common thread linking each manifesto: the GP. With primary practice now recognised as the cornerstone of the health service, and the most viable means of reducing A&E pressures, the only real divergence between the major parties is how the influx of new primary care policies will be funded.
With primary practice now recognised as the cornerstone of the health service, and the most viable means of reducing A&E pressures, the only real divergence between the major parties is how the influx of new primary care policies will be funded
It is possible that the prospect of a coalition government has narrowed the gap between parties, but it is more probable that an agreement has been reached that efficient, good-quality primary care is the key to improving the NHS. With recent figures reporting that achievement of A&E targets has dropped to its lowest in a decade, the need to keep patients away from the hospital waiting room has moved integrated frontline care to the top of the list of priorities.
Labour has pledged £2.5billion towards 20,000 more nurses, 3,000 midwives and 8,000 GPs, while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both announced plans for £8billion in NHS investment to be rolled out until 2020. The acknowledgement from Labour that more GPs need to be trained and funded is a good start, while the ongoing political dialogue indicates that a good proportion of the £8billion funds proposed by the other major parties would also go towards the development of primary care.
These pledges follow the plans for more health and social care funding laid out in the 5 Year Forward View, as well as the introduction of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund, which presented a welcome incentive for primary care improvements. The commitment from all parties to support GPs and fund advances in primary practice has been growing in recent years and could be poised to make a significant impact on delivery of treatment.
This renewed focus on GPs now points towards the possibility of a more-efficient deployment of doctors and nurses to frontline care, the introduction of more facilities and services at primary care premises, and a reduction in unnecessary emergency hospital visits.
Perhaps the only issue remaining is how, and when, each investment will be implemented. Comments from Sir David Nicholson indicated that the £8billion investment would need to be immediate, rather than over the next five years, in order for the manifesto promises to be sustained.
For many of the areas affected by A&E pressure or declining premises, the improvement of buildings and the inclusion of a wider range of diagnostic and treatment resources will be essential for supporting new models of care
It would also be encouraging if we could see some of the planning and investment directed towards primary care development. For many of the areas affected by A&E pressure or declining premises, the improvement of buildings and the inclusion of a wider range of diagnostic and treatment resources will be essential for supporting the models of care outlined in the 5 Year Forward View.
So, while the possibility of a joined-up leadership might blur the lines between the electorate’s choices, the merging of priorities as far as healthcare is concerned is a welcome one.
By agreeing on a cohesive, coherent plan for GPs, their patients, and the practices they work from, we could start to see some pivotal changes in the role of local health services in their communities.