Responding to the Conservative Party announcement on its future health policies, The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:
'The Conservatives' choice proposals would mean the NHS subsidising large numbers of patients who would have gone private anyway. This is not a good use of public funds. It's the relatively wealthy who are more likely to benefit and in a sense it undermines the concept of a service free for all regardless of ability to pay.
'The Conservatives are right that patients must be offered more choice about where, when and how they are treated. But we need to ensure that all patients - even the most disadvantaged - are able to make choices and all this should not distract us from the fact that patients want quality care close to home.'
Niall Dickson added: 'We cannot see how Conservative plans to scrap all central targets imposed on hospitals and family doctors will improve services for patients. National targets are important benchmarks for the health service and a measure by which the taxpayer can hold the NHS to account. The longest waiting times have been dramatically reduced but, of course, the targets are not perfect. There have been too many of them and they have been known to distort behaviour and clinical priorities. We need constantly to look for new and more sensitive incentives.'
The King's Fund health policy director Jennifer Dixon said:
'The Conservatives' plans to extend the freedoms of foundation trusts are more promising. We believe the freedoms initially promised to foundation trusts were watered down far too much and have left the best performing health providers with little room to be more innovative and responsive to their local communities.
'Allowing foundation trusts to borrow on the open markets could have real benefits. But it is too soon for the Conservatives to say that all hospitals should be allowed to apply for foundation status when the knock-on effects on the whole health system are not sufficiently understood. We need the first wave of foundation trusts to be independently and robustly evaluated before their number, or their freedoms, are expanded.
'In particular, a critical issue facing the NHS at present is how to improve the care of people with chronic diseases. These patients need care that is integrated between general practice and hospitals and there is a danger that foundation status might encourage hospitals to go it alone and ignore the fact they need to work closely with primary care and to reduce avoidable hospitalisation.'
Notes to editors
1. For further information or interviews with King's Fund staff please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585.
2. 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.