The King's Fund today welcomed the Labour Party's manifesto commitment to reduce waiting times further, increase patient choice and improve care for people with long-term conditions, but warned against moves to engage in major reorganisation when so many other challenges are facing the service.
The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:
'There is much to be welcomed in this manifesto. Although already known, the pledges to reduce waiting times from the GP practice to the operating theatre, devolve power to the front-line by ensuring family doctors have greater control over budgets, and extending direct payments in social care are all good news for patients and clients.
'But we're concerned about today's new commitment to 'streamline' the NHS and release £250million a year for front-line services by 2007. While we agree there is likely to be further scope for savings, this is the wrong time to impose structural change. The health service will face huge challenges over the next few years - whatever political party is elected - and diverting the attention of managers and health professionals from this demanding agenda is unwise.
'All parties favour increasing the use of market forces in the delivery of health care. These have the potential to bring about real benefits but they carry risks as well which is why it would be sensible not to push for further organisational upheaval.
'We hope the next government decides against this so that health professionals get the breathing space they need to bed down the new reforms. In this new and more volatile market we may need even more managerial expertise - not less - to oversee the system in each area and to ensure patients have access to a comprehensive range of services. In any case, we would need to see much more detail about how these savings will be made than is provided in the manifesto.'
The King's Fund believes the next government, regardless of who wins the General Election, faces six major health challenges. These are:
- combating the rising tide of preventable ill health
- ensuring some stability in the more market driven NHS
- ensuring patient choice enhances and does not jeopardise equity
- ending waiting times with heavy investment in diagnostic staff and equipment, more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals and greater use of the independent sector
- improving care of older people, those with mental health problems and the 17 million people in the UK with long-term conditions
- kick-starting an open debate on the future of NHS spending
Niall Dickson added:
'These priorities should all take centre stage in the next government's health agenda. As The King's Fund's recent audit of the NHS under Labour showed, the Government has made steady progress in reforming the health service since coming to power in 1997. But there are still important problems to be solved. Big challenges lay ahead and this is a critical time for the service.'
Notes to editors:
1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
2. The King's Fund recently published An Independent Audit of the NHS under Labour (1997–2005). It found the government has made huge strides in reforming the health service since coming to power in 1997, but warned there are still important problems to be solved and that as yet there is no firm evidence to show the reforms have produced a marked improvement in the nation's health.
3. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.