Dr Robin Cordell is a former NHS GP who has worked in the Armed Forces. He is now engaged in supporting leadership development in the UK health sector and is on the Approved List of Conservative Candidates.
The NHS is our great national asset, providing security for all our citizens and families through good health and healthcare. All three main political parties are rightly concerned about the challenges we have in resourcing it now, and in the future as demand continues to rise. Through health, economic and social advances people are living longer, and the tremendous advances we have seen in medical science have allowed people to survive previously fatal conditions.
Contrary to the narrative of others, we Conservatives care passionately about our NHS. We will not break it up or “sell it off”, and we will keep the key principle of being free at the point of delivery. Jeremy Hunt at our Party Conference last week said clearly that the NHS must not be a “political football” – but it is still important to point out there are two key reasons why, in contrast to others, the Conservative approach to sustaining and improving this essential institution is the right way.
First, the Government’s economic policy. As the Secretary of State made clear, by tackling the deficit, bringing about better ways of doing business and reducing inefficiencies, this Government has raised the amount that has been needed to be spent on the NHS in England by £12.5 billion in cash terms this Parliament. At the conference, the Prime Minister spoke with great passion, making it crystal clear that he will continue to protect funding for our NHS in real terms in the next Parliament, and will indeed invest further in healthcare research.
Second, by empowering those at the front line to shape the services their patients need. The perverse targets, with their focus on that which can be measured, rather than that which actually makes a difference to the health of individual patients, and that of the population, have gone. Through trusting the health professionals who work in the NHS to deliver a professional service, in the interests of improving patient outcome, a caring culture can continue to flourish – in contrast to the targets and control culture that led to the disaster at Mid Staffs.
There are many reasons why the Health and Social Care Act has made such a difference. I will highlight two that have been bringing results since April 2013.
The Health and Wellbeing Boards in local authorities across England have brought excellent co-operation between health and care agencies in identifying and meeting the health and wellbeing needs of people locally. I have witnessed this in action in Slough, where the occupational health charity that I chair is based, and where I am engaged in helping people into work and to stay in work.
Next, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have strengthened the role of primary healthcare professionals in making the decisions, in partnership with local people (represented on CCG Boards) on the services their community needs, and promotes the integrated care that removes the unhelpful but long standing traditional divide between primary care and hospital services.
Innovation is encouraged and rewarded. For example, the Slough CCG recently won funding through the Prime Minister’s Challenge which has enabled all primary healthcare providers to work together to make major improvements to out of hours care within this borough, which has particular health and care challenges.
Seven day working (from eight until eight) has been announced this week as a key NHS policy by the Prime Minister, and through my own experience of running seven day working in the Defence Medical Services I know this is needed and that it works – but it does need to be resourced, as the Prime Minister has promised. This will not mean that your own named GP (now being reintroduced and which was a key tenet of family medicine when I was in the NHS) will work all those 84 hours, but the wider team in which he or she works will be accessible when you need them.
Conservatives have the right approach to sustaining and improving the NHS. We really care about the NHS, we have resourced it through sound economic policy, and we have empowered the professionals engaged at the front line to work with the communities and local authorities to deliver that needed to those they serve.
ConservativeHome readers will all have GPs, and I suggest this message should be passed on to all NHS staff you meet. The Labour alternative is a top-down bureaucratic and hospital-focused model, making all GPs salaried employees under the direction of hospital managers (since 1948, primary care has been based on GP partnerships that are independent businesses contracting to the NHS). The Labour model would remove decision making from those best able to make the right choices on health and care within their community – that is those professionals working for their patients in primary and community care.