The Lib Dems’ manifesto pledges on health

Protecting and improving our NHS

We are proud of the NHS - it’s built on the basic British principle of fairness.

Liberal Democrats believe that we can improve the NHS; in fact, we believe it’s our duty to do so at a time like this when budgets are tight. We all know that too much precious NHS money is wasted on bureaucracy, and doctors and nurses spend too much time trying to meet government targets.

So our first priority is to increase spending in some parts of the NHS by cutting waste in others. We have identifi ed specifi c savings that can be made in management costs, bureaucracy and quangos, and we will reinvest that money back into the health care you need. Because of the rising costs of treatments and an ageing population, there will be particular pressure on services like cancer treatment, mental health care, maternity services, and dementia care; only by going through this process of fi nding savings elsewhere can we protect these services in the coming years. The NHS is a huge system, and we will make changes to ensure it works as effectively as possible.

We will:

  • Give priority to preventing people getting ill by linking payments to health boards and GPs more directly to prevention measures.
  • Cut the size of the Department of Health by half, abolish unnecessary quangos such as Connecting for Health and cut the budgets of the rest, scrap Strategic Health Authorities and seek to limit the pay and bonuses of top NHS managers so that none are paid more than the Prime Minister.
  • Make the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving hospital discharge, maximising the number of day case operations, reducing delays prior to operations, and where possible moving consultations into the community.
  • Integrate health and social care to create a seamless service, ending bureaucratic barriers and saving money to allow people to stay in their homes for longer rather than going into hospital or longterm residential care.
  • Use the money for Labour’s fl awed Personal Care At Home Bill to provide guaranteed respite care for the one million carers who work the longest hours. We will establish an independent commission, with cross-party support, to develop proposals for long-term care of the elderly.
  • Prioritise dementia research within the health research and development budget.
  • Improve access to counselling for people with mental health problems, by continuing the roll-out of cognitive and behavioural therapies.
  • Reduce the ill health and crime caused by excessive drinking. We support a ban on below-cost selling, and are in favour of the principle of minimum pricing, subject to detailed work to establish how it could be used in tackling problems of irresponsible drinking. We will also review the complex, ill-thought-through system of taxation for alcohol to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.
  • Save lives and reduce pressure on NHS budgets by cutting air pollution. We will cancel plans for a third runway at Heathrow and other airport expansion in the South East, and reduce pollution from vehicle exhausts through tighter regulation. We will aim to fully meet European air quality targets by 2012.

More control over the health care you need

Liberal Democrats believe that one important way to improve the NHS is to make care fl exible, designed to suit what patients need, not what managers want. And we believe that care would improve if local people had more control over how their health services were run.

The NHS often feels too remote and complex. Local services - especially maternity wards and accident and emergency departments - keep being closed, even though local people desperately want them to stay open. People often struggle to get convenient access to GP services, and poorer areas are less well served by the NHS, contributing to widening health inequalities.

We will change this by:

  • Sharply reducing centralised targets and bureaucracy, replacing them with entitlements guaranteeing that patients get diagnosis and treatment on time. If they do not, the NHS will pay for the treatment to be provided privately.
  • Putting front-line staff in charge of their ward or unit budgets, and allowing staff to establish employee trusts giving them real involvement and a say over how their service is run.
  • Empowering local communities to improve health services through elected Local Health Boards, which will take over the role of Primary Care Trust boards in commissioning care for local people, working in co-operation with local councils. Over time, Local Health Boards should be able to take on greater responsibility for revenue and resources to allow local people to fund local services which need extra money.
  • Giving every patient the right to choose to register with the GP they want, without being restricted by where they live, and the right to access their GP by email.
  • Ensuring that local GPs are directly involved in providing out-ofhours care.
  • Reforming payments to GPs so that those who accept patients from areas with the worst health and deprivation scores receive an extra payment for each one they take.
  • Giving Local Health Boards the freedom to commission services for local people from a range of different types of provider, including for example staff co-operatives, on the basis of a level playing field in any competitive tendering - ending any current bias in favour of private providers.

Quality care for all patients

We all need to be assured that, if we become unwell, the care we get will be of good quality. Most of all, we need to be confi dent that our safety comes first, and that the treatment we get doesn’t put us in more danger. We will introduce a series of reforms to improve patient safety.

We will:

  • Require hospitals to be open about mistakes, and always tell patients if something has gone wrong.
  • Make it illegal for a Local Health Board to allow a doctor to work in the UK without passing robust language and competence tests.
  • Clamp down on anyone who is aggressive or abusive to staff in accident and emergency departments. We would encourage better working relationships between hospitals and the local police to provide an increased police presence at times of high risk, and increase prosecutions. At the same time, we will ensure that problem drinkers or substance abusers are referred for appropriate treatment.

It is deeply disappointing that the Government has failed to provide adequate support for those affected by the contamination of blood products with HIV.

A Liberal Democrat government will establish a working group involving patient groups to determine appropriate levels of financial assistance.