Healthcare and the General Election 2015: Who’s Promising What?
This week has seen the release of each of the three main parties’ manifestos, outlining their promises and plans should they find themselves in power. And they are very long. That’s understandable – outlining how you are going to lead 64 million people to a bright and shiny future isn’t the sort of message you can get across briefly. However, I’d be interested to know how many people will actually read the manifestos before they head to the polling stations in May, and play their part in shaping our country for the next four years. Arguably, the future of the NHS and healthcare services is one of the most important, and complicated, issues out there. We will all lean on the NHS at some point in our lives, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that the NHS has been making headlines recently – and not always for the right reasons. The next party to take charge of the country will be directly responsible for tackling these challenges, and determining what healthcare services are (or crucially, are not) available to us. So Apple a Day has attempted to break down what Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are promising with regards to health services. We’re taking a look at three different areas: waiting times, funding, and the parity between mental and physical health services. These are some of the main challenges the NHS is facing – so we want to know what each party has to say.
We’ll start by taking a look at funding. There’s been a lot of alarming statistics circulating about the extent of the funding gap the NHS will face by 2020 (£30billion, at the last count). Clearly, this is an issue where the impact will be felt throughout the health service. From the willingness to invest in new, innovative medicines to the availability of healthcare professionals and services, the NHS is going to face some difficult funding decisions. So who is doing what to keep the lights on in the NHS? Well, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are pledging the £8billion it’s been decided the NHS needs to keep going. Labour has also promised to invest in more midwives, nurses and GPs to ease the burden on the NHS. Crucially, Labour also states how it aims to generate this money – by taxing properties worth over £2 million, placing a levy on tobacco firms, and tackling tax avoidance. Taken at face value, it’s easy to interpret this as problem solved. However, other sources have reported that the promised £8 billion will be enough to just about keep hospital doors open – and that’s it. The money pledged is a start, but whether this will actually allow the NHS to put in place the structures to continue improvements into the future remains to be seen.
The next issue which receives a lot of attention in all three manifestos is the introduction of equal treatment between mental and physical healthcare services. The Lib Dems have the most to say on this, promising greater investment in mental health services, a reduction in waiting times for those who need access to a therapist, and promises to improve mental wellbeing overall – targeting loneliness, anxiety and the stigma of mental health. Labour also echoes this emphasis on ensuring those with mental health problems are taken as seriously as those with physical health problems, placing a further focus on ensuring the educational system can support children who may need counselling. The Conservatives call out a focus on mental health support for new mothers, whilst also promising greater access to mental health services for all. These pledges are long overdue, and it’s heartening to see that all three main parties are dedicating such a large proportion of their manifestos on healthcare to mental health. If we truly want to end the stigma surrounding mental health, affording equal attention to mental and physical health services is an important start.
The final issue tackled by all three parties is one of the most controversial ones. Waiting times have received a lot of media attention, with many accounts of patients in need of medical attention kept waiting in A&E for hours. Again, the Lib Dems dedicated the greatest amount of space to this issue, with promises to provide better crisis care in Accident and Emergency, easier and improved access to GPs, and a reduction in the time taken to receive diagnostic tests and treatments. Labour and the Conservatives have placed less emphasis on this, but what they lack in substance they make up for in bravery – both promising much greater access to GPs, with Labour guaranteeing same day appointments. How they will achieve this is unclear, but it will make a real difference to a lot of people if they pull it off. Here’s hoping.
So to summarise, all three parties are promising a lot. Waiting times will be reduced, access to mental health services will be increased, and an £8 billion investment is going to keep the NHS on track, allegedly. The parties have laid out what they aim to do, and now it’s over to us. We need to work out where our own priorities lie, and which parties place the most emphasis on these. The final step is whoever gets into power actually delivering on these promises. Without a crystal ball, Apple a Day can’t provide much advice here, but one thing is for certain; guiding the NHS through the next couple of years is not a challenge for the faint-hearted.