Tories unveil health manifesto with five key pledges for NHS
By Steve Nowottny
A Conservative Government would overhaul the controversial Choose and Book system to include new providers and allow GPs to refer patients to named consultants, it emerged today, as the Conservative party published its plans for the NHS.
The pledge came as the party published its the most detailed summary yet of what its policies will mean for the health service – and reiterated its promise to renegotiate the GP contract and ‘propel forward' GP commissioning.
In a keynote speech this morning, Tory leader David Cameron set out his vision for the health service, as the party published its five key priorities.
The Conservatives promised to ramp up patients' ‘freedom to choose' as part of its first pledge, creating a ‘patient-led NHS', and said it would ‘restructure' Choose and Book to give patients greater choice, ‘for example over which consultant a patients wants to be referred to.'
Choose and Book has been fraught with problems since its inception in 2005, with GPs frustrated at their inability to refer to named consultants because of restrictions placed on them by NHS trusts, prompted by pressure to hit waiting time targets.
The Tories' five pledges – which also include measuring health outcomes, putting healthcare professionals in charge of delivering care, and reforming long-term care – flesh out the party's radical proposals to shake-up primary care.
These include a firm commitment to renegotiate the GP contract, open up the primary care sector to ‘new providers' and give real budgets and commissioning powers to GPs.
‘The Conservatives understand that competition isn't a dirty word – in fact, it is the key to better healthcare for everyone,' Mr Cameron said.
‘To make this competition really mean something, commissioning by GPs won't be stalled – it will be propelled forward. We will give GPs real control over their budgets, lettering them negotiate contracts with service providers so they get the best deal for their patients and allowing them to reinvest any savings they make.'
Other key pledges included slashing NHS bureaucracy by a third in four years – equivalent to £1.5bn savings – and introducing an autonomy and accountability bill to establish an independent NHS board.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator with responsibility for IT, said while the focus on Choose and Book was welcome, the problems to date had been in the way trusts had implemented the system and the referral restrictions they had placed on GPs.
He said: ‘The functionality already exists - the problem has been lack of local implementation, which has undermined GPs' ability to refer. This will only work if there is a clear push to PCTs and hospital trusts to make this available.'Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley The Five pledges
1: Create a patient-led NHS
• Restructure ‘Choose and Book' to include new providers and allow referral to named consultants
• Consult on moving to patient-held records
2: Measure health outcomes
• Collect and publish health outcome data
• Reform NICE and drug prices and look to move to value-based pricing for treatments.
3: Put healthcare professionals in charge of delivering care
• Renegotiate GP contract, open up primary care to new providers, and give real budgets and commissioning powers to GPs.
• Rationalise NHS quangos and cut NHS administration costs by a third.
4: Focus Government action on improving public health
• Rename DH the Department of Public Health
• Introduce ring-fenced public health budgets to PCTs and local councils.
• Recruit and train 4,200 more health visitors and introduce minimum service guarantees.
5: Reform long-term care
• Pilot schemes to build patients' ability to look after themselves post hospital
• Roll out personal health and social care budgets for people with long-term conditions