Election pledges on health and wellbeing - do they add up?
Pulse analyses the general election pledges from the main parties on improving care
The Conservatives have made some announcements about improving care, largely around dementia.
In the Autumn statement, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to invest £15m to boost funding of research into dementia treatments.
The Government has recently said that it would be working with the RCGP to introduce mandatory mental health minimum standard training for all new GPs – and it has set up a taskforce to identify and recommend updates to the GP training programme amid research showing that primary care patients who committed suicide were often frequent attenders.
Chancellor George Osborne has also promised to co-locate Improving Access to Psychological Therapies therapists in 350 job centres as part of his final Budget before the election.
The Labour party has promised to implement a ‘wide-ranging’ review of NICE guidance, including tougher rules on commissioners to report and explain any departures from NICE guidelines, should the party come to power after the election.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has also pledged that GPs will offer vulnerable elderly patients regular ‘safety checks’ and sign-post those at risk of loneliness and depression to social activities. The measures - which were revealed in the party’s 10-year NHS plan - are aimed at cutting avoidable hospital admissions and will see GPs identifying hazards in the home and helping patients access support to heat their homes.
The party has also claimed that it will make big moves to tackle public health - one example of this would be to set maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in children’s foods.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has also promised to ‘hardwire’ social prescriptions into the NHS, with exercise on referral becoming the ‘first port of call’ for GPs.
In addition to this, Labour has said that it will ensure that there is cancer diagnostic testing equipment available in GP surgeries in ‘every town’.
The promise from Labour will see a new investment of £150m each year from 2016/17 in new diagnostic infrastructure to make it possible to do more tests directly in practices rather than having to wait for a hospital appointment.
The Liberal Democrats have made mental health the centrepiece of its pre-election NHS policy drive.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has promised to invest £3.5bn more on mental healthcare in England over the next parliament if the Lib Dems are elected into the corridors of power.
The money would be spent on ‘revolutionising’ children’s and adult mental healthcare – including £250m for pregnant women and mothers dealing with depression, new time waiting standards for people in crisis and for conditions like bipolar disorder and hundreds of thousands more people with access to talking therapies.
Health minister Norman Lamb recently said that GPs’ attitudes to mental health needed to change in order to achieve true parity of esteem for mental and physical ill health, adding that some had a ‘rubbish’ attitude.
In addition, the Lib Dems have also revealed their ambition to continue to develop Health and Wellbeing Boards. This will see more elected councillors on a politically proportional basis, and increasingly take on more responsibilities - also providing scope for commissioning local GP services.
UKIP has guaranteed that if it comes to power after the next election it will increase funding in mental health services for both adults and children as part of the extra £3bn it will plunge into the NHS. The party has also pledged to invest an extra £130m annually into the research of dementia.
The Greens claim the party would tackle air pollution by following more rigorous standards that respect World Health Organisation guidelines. It would also extend VAT to less healthy foods and use the money to subsidise the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables.
In addition, it would put a minimum price on alcohol of 50p per unit to reduce associated health issues.
Scottish National Party
The party has vowed to increase investment in mental health to £100m over the next five years in Scotland, directing resources to projects that will improve mental health care in primary care.
Pulse reality check
It is striking how little the parties have to say on improving health and wellbeing, compared with all the rhetoric on GP access for example.
The Conservatives have said very little that is new, whilst Labour seem to be reverting back to the old ‘command and control’ method of imposing blunt targets and goals across the NHS. Neither is very inspiring.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are hoping that their promises for a lot of new money for mental health will win them favour, and it is welcome they are giving such a neglected area such prominence. Although, the more cynical among us may point out they have been in government whilst community mental health services have been cut to shreds.