In just a few days the nation will go to the polls to cast their votes for the 2015 General Election. The party battle lines have been drawn, and at the time of writing, the polling figures show the two historic parties neck and neck, with no single party predicted to win the 326 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority. If this proves to be the case, any number of potential coalitions could emerge from the hung parliament, with the other of the five main national parties – the Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Green Party – making up the seats. Depending on which flavour of leadership emerges, be it green and red, or a ‘BlueKIP’ mix of blue and purple, tackling the issues health system will be key priority.
The granular detail of how any new policies could directly impact optics is unclear, but here OT gives a rundown of the key themes around healthcare which have emerged from the five main national party manifestos.
Integration of careAll five of the main parties lead on their commitment to further integrate health and social care services. While primary care services get a fleeting mention in a few of the manifestos, only the Greens and UKIP specifically mention access to eye care services. The Greens pledge to “encourage cooperation between all the primary care providers” including “optical” organisations, while UKIP pledges to keep “free prescriptions and eye tests for the over-60s, without means testing.” The importance of mental health has also emerged as a unifying theme across the board.
It is clear that more money is needed to plug a funding gap which could increase to as much as £30bn by 2020, according to NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, which estimates an additional £8bn a year is needed. The Tories have pledged to increase spending by at least that much a year (above inflation) by 2020, as have the Lib Dems. While there is no definitive figure in Labour’s manifesto, the party has pledged £2.5bn more than the Conservatives for staff recruitment – despite concerns that it may not meet the £8bn target. The Green Party has set out an enormous £12bn a year increase in NHS funding from 2016, and UKIP pledge to up the current budget by £3bn a year (by the end of the next parliament.
StaffingMore doctors and nurses is the unifying political cry. The Lib Dems have pledged to better utilise primary care, name checking community pharmacy, along with suggesting GP surgeries in A&E – which could impact on minor eye care services (MECS). The Green Party has pledged to ‘expand the workforce,’ but no solid figures. Although the Conservative manifesto does not specify figures, it has pledged to train an extra 5,000 GPs. Labour, meanwhile, has pledged 8,000 GPs and 20,000 more nurses by 2020, and UKIP match this, with the addition of 3,000 midwives.
Very much the name of the game in this election. With country-specific NHS organisations with separate budgets, more devolution is imminent as Manchester becomes the first local region to have control over health and social care spending. At the recent #healthdebate Jeremy Hunt commented on ‘Devo Manc’ as a “really exciting” move. Whilst full details are yet to emerge, reorganisation has been firmly ruled out by all parties. Optics must wait to see how any further devolution could affect regional practice and locally commissioned eye services.
The General Election will be held on 7 May. A guide to the party manifestos and key issues is available on the BBC website.
Do the manifestos actually mention eye health or primary care?
“And we will invest more in primary care, to help prevent health problems before they start.”
“And we will bring together services for physical health, mental health and social care into a single system built around the individual.”
“Keep free bus passes, winter fuel allowances, free TV licenses for the over 75s and free prescriptions and eye tests for the over-60s, without means testing.”
“Encourage cooperation between all the primary care providers, e.g. pharmacies and hearing, optical and old age care organisations.”