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Conservatives pledge to modernise primary care services in manifesto

Conservatives pledge to modernise primary care services in manifesto
By Beth Gault
11 June 2024

The Conservative party has promised to modernise primary care services in their manifesto, released today (11 June).

Unveiled ahead of the general election on 4 July, the Conservatives have committed to increase spending on the NHS above inflation every year.

The manifesto also featured promises to build or modernise 250 GP practices, focusing on areas of new housing growth, and expand pharmacy first, including for menopause support, contraception and treatment for chest infections. It said this would free up 20 million GP appointments per year.

The plans also include:

  • To hire 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors by the next parliament.
  • Building 50 more community diagnostic centres, to enable 2.5 additional checks a year.
  • Expanding coverage of mental health support teams from 50% to 100% of schools and colleges in England by 2030.
  • Opening early support hubs for those aged 11-25 in every local community by 2030.
  • Increasing the planned expansion of NHS Talking Therapies by 50%, supporting people with anxiety, stress and depression.
  • Boosting the capacity of individual placement and support for severe mental illness by 140,000 places.
  • Pass a new law to provide better treatment and support for severe mental health needs in the first session of the next Parliament.

And, continuing commitments to the already announced Tobacco and Vapes bill, dental recovery plan and £3.4bn technology investment.

The party will fund these extra expenses through cutting the number of managers within the NHS by 5,500, which it said would release £550m for frontline services.

When announced last week, NHS Confederation’s chief executive, Matthew Taylor said the plans should be ‘considered carefully’.

He said: ‘The Conservatives proposals to fund their plans by further cutting NHS management costs needs to be considered carefully against the fact that the NHS is already under-managed, and with managers playing a key role in efforts to improve NHS productivity.’

In response to the manifesto today, chief executive of the Health Foundation, Dr Jennifer Dixon, said there was ‘little detail’.

She said: ‘The Conservative manifesto is an ambitious wish-list, but it’s hard to have confidence in delivery when there is so little detail on how the plans will be achieved. 

‘Economic growth is being held back by record numbers of people reporting long term health conditions that keep them out of the workforce. Yet this manifesto offers nothing to get people back into work or improve their health, while deep cuts to benefits will simply drive more people into poverty and worse health. 

‘Pledges to tackle the NHS waiting times and shift more care out of hospitals are welcome but there is little detail on funding or action to achieve this. Evidence suggests that the NHS needs more, not less management. So cutting over 5,000 managers and offering hardly any new investment in the buildings, equipment and technology to deliver these improvements or tackle the NHS’s productivity challenge is not credible. Over the last decade, the UK would have needed to invest an additional £33bn in capital to have matched EU levels of investment.’    

She added that it was ‘positive’ the party has promised to ‘fix’ social care, but said it was ‘hard to take seriously after more than a decade of delay and broken promises’.

On bolstering primary and community care, Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘A key component of the health and care policies in the Conservative manifesto is the aim of shifting more care into the community, which will help to diagnose illnesses earlier, support people to manage their conditions, and help reduce pressure in the NHS. This is the right direction of travel, but the specific actions in the manifesto to achieve this shift fall short of the challenge. 

‘Building 100 new GP surgeries and modernising an additional 150 would be good news for some patients but is a drop in the ocean of what is needed to improve access in primary care. There are 6,300 GP surgeries across the country, down from 7,600 in 2015, and the number of fully trained, full time equivalent GPs has fallen by 1,800 from 29,400 in September 2015 to 27,600 in April 2024.’

On funding the health and care policies, she added: ‘Funding some of these pledges by cutting the number of NHS managers risks cutting your nose off to spite your face. The NHS already has a lower ratio of managers compared to other industries. Achieving an efficient and productive health service requires experts who can streamline processes and create the environments for clinicians to focus on what they do best – delivering patient care.’

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