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Lib Dems focus on healthcare in manifesto

Lib Dems focus on healthcare in manifesto
By Beth Gault
11 June 2024

The Liberal Democrat party has published its manifesto for the upcoming general election, focusing on healthcare.

The party are the first to unveil their manifesto, ahead of the election on 4 July, with the Conservatives expected to publish theirs later today, and Labour on Thursday. 

The main policies within the document include giving everyone the right to see a GP within seven days, recruiting 8,000 more GPs, improving access to mental health services and that 100% of patients will start cancer treatment within 62 days (see box).

It also committed to spending £8.35bn on the NHS, with £5bn funded by changes to capital gains tax.

At the launch, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: ‘We are putting forward a bold, ambitious and fully costed plan to tackle the healthcare crisis from top to bottom. This is a manifesto to save the NHS.’

The party have already pledged £1bn a year to restore the public health grant and to introduce free personal care.

Responding to the Liberal Democrat manifesto for government, Nuffield Trust chief executive Thea Stein said: ‘The measures in the Liberal Democrat party manifesto outlined today are ambitious and show that in some important areas the party has taken good calls on difficult issues about what to prioritise.

‘There is an impressive detail of commitment, picking out neglected areas like the mental health of new mothers and the dysfunctional pay review system for NHS staff. However, the funding proposed appears insufficient, and social care proposals would not achieve the goal of coverage that is equivalent to the NHS.’

Though this is ‘brave policy-making’, she added: ‘The real sting in the tail of this manifesto is that the sums to support these worthwhile aspirations simply don’t add up. It’s unclear from the costings document exactly what the £8.35 billion pledged to cover the NHS and care pledges is based on.

‘Just freezing the NHS budget in real terms would require more money than this by 2028/29. Even in the most generous interpretation, a real-terms £8.35 billion increase above the planned budget for this year would result in annual increases in the region of 2.8%. This is lower than over the last decade, lower than the long-term average of 3.6% and would not meet the OBR’s estimates of the funding needed to pay for the existing NHS long-term workforce plan.’

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, added: ‘Pledges for more early access to mental health services and investment in public health will be welcomed by trust leaders.

‘Liberal Democrats have highlighted too the need for greater capital investment in NHS buildings, facilities and equipment to help trusts to boost productivity and cut waiting lists.

‘Hospital, mental health, community and ambulance trusts have a vital role to play in joined-up action with government to create a healthy, equitable and productive society for years to come.’

Liberal Democrat health promises:

Give everyone the right to see a GP or the most appropriate practice staff member within seven days, or within 24 hours if they urgently need to, by:

  • Increasing the number of full-time equivalent GPs by 8,000, half by boosting recruitment and half from retaining more experienced GPs.
  • Giving everyone 70+ and everyone with long-term health conditions access to a named GP.
  • Freeing up GPs’ time by giving more prescribing rights and public health advisory services to qualified pharmacists, nurse practitioners and paramedics.
  • Introducing a universal 24/7 GP booking system.
  • Removing top-down bureaucracy to let practices hire the staff they need and invest in training.
  • Establishing a Strategic Small Surgeries Fund to sustain services in rural and remote areas.

Guarantee access to an NHS dentist for everyone needing urgent and emergency care by:

  • Bringing dentists back to the NHS from the private sector by fixing the broken NHS dental contract and using flexible commissioning to meet patient needs.
  • Introducing an emergency scheme to guarantee access to free NHS dental check-ups for those already eligible: children, new mothers, those who are pregnant and those on low incomes.
  • Guaranteeing appointments for all those who need a dental check before commencing surgery, chemotherapy or transplant.

Take action to prevent tooth decay by:

  • Providing supervised toothbrushing training for children in nurseries and schools.
  • Scrapping VAT on children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste. 

Work towards a fairer and more sustainable long-term funding model for pharmacies, and build on the Pharmacy First approach to give patients more accessible routine services and ease the pressure on GPs.

Improve early access to mental health services by:

  • Opening walk-in hubs for children and young people in every community.
  • Offering regular mental health check-ups at key points in people’s lives when they are most vulnerable to mental ill-health.
  • Putting a dedicated, qualified mental health professional in every school, as set out in chapter 8.
  • Ending out-of-area mental health placements by increasing capacity and coordination between services, so that no one is treated far from home.
  • Extending young people’s mental health services up to the age of 25 to end the drop-off experienced by young people transitioning to adult services.
  • Increasing access to clinically effective talking therapies.
  • Taking an evidence-led approach to preventing and treating eating disorders, and challenging damaging stigma about weight.
  • Making prescriptions for people with chronic mental health conditions free on the NHS, as part of our commitment to review the entire schedule of exemptions for prescription charges.
  • Transforming perinatal mental health support for those who are pregnant, new mothers and those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Tackling stigma through continued support for public education including Time to Talk.
  • Cutting suicide rates with a focus on community suicide prevention services and improving prevention training for frontline NHS staff.
  • Recognising the relationship between mental health and debt, and providing better signposting between talking therapies and debt advice.
  • Ending inappropriate and costly inpatient placements for people with learning disabilities and autism.
  • Modernising the Mental Health Act to strengthen people’s rights, give them more choice and control over their treatment and prevent inappropriate detentions.
  • Creating a statutory, independent Mental Health Commissioner to represent patients, their families and carers.
  • Widening the current safety investigation into mental health hospitals to look at the whole patient experience, including ward design and treatment options. 

Boost cancer survival rates by:

  • Introducing a guarantee that 100% of patients will be able to start treatment within 62 days from urgent referral.
  • Replacing ageing radiotherapy machines and increasing their number, so no one has to travel too far for treatment.
  • Recruiting more cancer nurses so that every patient has a dedicated specialist supporting them throughout their treatment.
  • Passing a Cancer Survival Research Act requiring the Government to coordinate and ensure funding for research into the cancers with the lowest survival rates.
  • Halving the time for new treatments to reach patients by expanding the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s capacity.
  • Launching a new prostate cancer screening programme for those at higher risk. 

Help people spend more years of their life in good health by:

  • Increasing the Public Health Grant, with a proportion of the extra funding set aside for those experiencing the worst health inequalities to co-produce plans for their communities.
  • Establishing a ‘Health Creation Unit’ in the Cabinet Office to lead work across government to improve the nation’s health and tackle health inequalities.
  • Introducing regulations to halt the dangerous use of vapes by children while recognising their role in smoking cessation for adults, and banning the sale of single-use vapes.
  • Improving access to blood pressure tests in community spaces.
  • Expanding social prescribing and investing in community projects that bring people together to combat loneliness.
  • Introducing a new kitemark for health apps and digital tools that are clinically proven to help people lead healthier lives.
  • Introducing a new levy on tobacco company profits to help fund healthcare and smoking cessation services.
  • Protecting children from exposure to junk food by supporting local authorities to restrict outdoor advertising and restricting TV advertising to post-watershed.
  • Extending the soft drinks levy to juice-based and milk-based drinks that are high in added sugar.
  • Tackling air pollution and poor air quality in public buildings with a Clean Air Act, as set out in chapter 12. 

Train, recruit and retain the doctors, nurses and other NHS staff we need, including by:

  • Establishing a properly independent pay review body.
  • Retaining more staff across the NHS through a ten-year retention plan.
  • Making flexible working a day-one right and expanding access to flexible, affordable childcare, as set out in chapters 4 and 9.
  • Fixing the work visa system and exempting NHS and care staff from the Immigration Skills Charge, as set out in chapter 18.
  • Ending the false economy of spending money on agency workers and encouraging the use of flexible staff banks. 

Fix the life-threatening crisis in our ambulance services by:

  • Ending excessive handover delays for ambulances by increasing the number of staffed hospital beds to end degrading corridor care, and fixing social care as set out in chapter 7.
  • Publishing accessible, localised reports of ambulance response times.
  • Creating an emergency fund to reverse closures of community ambulance stations and cancel planned closures where needed. 

Implement a ten-year plan to invest in hospitals and the primary care estate to end the scandal of crumbling roofs, dangerous concrete and life-expired buildings.

Create a new ‘Patients Charter’ to harness lived experience of patients and embed patient voice, partnership and safety standards across health and care settings, including:

  • A new legal right to a second opinion.
  • A new legal right to maintain contact in all health and care settings.
  • Protecting patient data and patients’ rights to opt out of data sharing. 

Implement the recommendations of the Infected Blood Inquiry in full, including delivering full and fair compensation to all victims of the scandal in a timely and transparent manner.

Introduce truly independent complaints processes and transparent monitoring of reports of sexual misconduct in the NHS.

End the General Medical Council’s five-year rule which prevents patients raising complaints relating to matters more than five years old.

Enable patients to leave hospital when they no longer need to be there by investing in social care and community care.

Develop and implement a post-pandemic strategy for supporting people who are immunocompromised.

Harness the benefits of new technology and digital tools for patients by:

  • Ring-fencing budgets to enable the NHS to adopt innovative digital tools that improve patient care and experience and save staff time and costs.
  • Replacing old, slow computers to free up clinicians’ time to care for patients.
  • Requiring all IT systems used by the NHS to work with each other.
  • Ensuring every care setting has electronic records that can feed into a patient’s health record with the patient’s consent.
  • Expanding virtual wards and investing in new technologies that free up staff time and allow people to be treated at or closer to home. 

Review diagnostic provision across the NHS and implement a new ten-year Strategic Diagnostics Plan.

Improve faster access to new and novel medicines and medical devices by seeking a comprehensive mutual recognition agreement with the European Medicines Agency.

Combat the harms caused by drugs by:

  • Moving the departmental lead on drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care.
  • Investing in more addiction services and support for drug users, including specialist youth support services.
  • Freeing up police time, reducing court backlogs, tackling prison overcrowding and reducing the harms of drug misuse by diverting people arrested for possession of drugs for personal use into treatment where appropriate.
  • Protecting young people, tackling the criminal gangs and taking ‘skunk’ off the streets by introducing a legal, regulated market for cannabis. Sales will be restricted to over-18s only, from licensed retailers with strict limits on potency and THC content.
  • Treating Scotland’s drug deaths crisis as a public health emergency, and devolving powers for tailored solutions where necessary. 

Provide a fair funding deal for hospices, including children’s hospices, recognising the valuable services they provide and saving money on hospital admissions.

Source: Liberal Democrats

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