Andrew Lansley is Shadow Secretary of State for Health and here he writes exclusively for ConservativeHome about the party's newly-stated priorities for the NHS and defends the pledge to increase NHS spending.
Yesterday morning, David Cameron set out a future Conservative Government’s five priorities for NHS reform. With the public increasingly indicating that they trust Conservatives with the future of the NHS, and professionals consistently expressing confidence in Conservative policies, people are eager to know what a Conservative NHS will look like.
We welcome any opportunity to set out our vision for the NHS. Rarely has a week gone by in the past five years where my colleagues in the Shadow Health team and I have not travelled up, down and cross country to visit hospitals, GP surgeries and dentists, to hear from those who serve in the NHS on the ground. Back in Westminster, we have sat through four Secretaries of State trying to dictate to clinicians from Whitehall. We have witnessed the deleterious effects on professional morale and patient care.
Through this journey, we have developed a plan for change that puts patients in the driving seat and liberates professionals to focus on patients’ priorities. We are determined not to make the mistake at the heart of Labour’s failure. They had a plan to win the election – but they had no plan for delivery. For Blair and Brown, the election was solely about getting into office, and their approach to office was simply about winning the next election. In fact, the man who was head of the Government’s strategy for three years at the Department of Health, Professor Chris Ham, recently admitted there had been no strategy:
"When Blair's government was elected, it had no clear idea what it wanted to do with the NHS."
The time is approaching when we will ask the public to put their trust in us at the ballot box. We are determined to live up to that trust by being ready to govern, and to deliver on our promises. That’s why we will always tackle head on any questions over our policy proposals. I know that there has been robust discussion here on ConservativeHome over our pledge to increase NHS spending at a time of crisis in our public finances.
I want ConHome readers to know that our pledge is the product of a hard-headed and widely accepted assessment of future demand on our NHS. In the coming years the NHS will face new pressures as our population ages and increases on an unprecedented scale; the number of people over 85 is set to double in the next 25 years.
Time and again, the public have made clear that their number one priority is to have good quality, local health services there for them and their families when they fall ill. Old age is the biggest driver of disease in this country. We simply can not hope to meet public expectations without additional resources to meet the new demographic demands on our NHS.
I know also that some have interpreted our cast-iron commitment to preserve the principles of the NHS as meaning that we don’t think the NHS needs reform. It is exactly the opposite. At a time when public spending priorities are being debated and scrutinised as never before, we know that continuing popular consent for a taxpayer-funded health service will depend on increased productivity and improved results for patients.
The old monolithic model of production has failed to deliver on both of these counts. It is precisely because we’re so deeply committed to the principles of the NHS that we have pledged to break open the state monopoly that is stifling innovation and improvement. We want to encourage charities and private organisations to compete on equal terms to provide NHS services, as long as they meet the necessary quality standards.
Our approach to public services is clear. Real choice and control for patients. Competition between providers. Payment according to the quality of care. Professionals accountable to patients for results. These policies will put patients in the driving seat of the NHS, and liberate professionals to respond directly to patients' needs and wishes. We are confident that they are the right policies to refresh the mandate of NHS values for years to come.