With polls showing that health care is second only to the economy in the issues that will influence how people vote in the general election and over 80 per cent of people saying the NHS should be protected from public spending cuts, it is not surprising that all the main parties are fighting to be seen as 'the party of the NHS'.
The election comes at a pivotal time for the NHS. After a decade of increases in funding, health budgets – whoever forms the next government – will be squeezed for the foreseeable future. To maintain the quality of services, the NHS will need to deliver significant year-on-year productivity gains – something it has struggled to achieve in recent years. And it must do so at a time of increased demand from an ageing population, a growing public health challenge and higher public expectations.
Despite this, there is little sign of politicians scaling back their ambitions for the NHS. All the main parties talk of increasing choice, improving quality and introducing more personalised services. Indeed, many of the dividing lines between the parties on health have faded – all of them are committed to an NHS free at the point of need and to protecting spending on frontline services.
The election also comes at a critical time for the social care system. The current system is widely condemned for its unfairness and for failing to provide people with the care and support they need. With already over-stretched services coming under increased pressure as the population ages, reforming social care is one of the most pressing social policy challenges we face as a nation.
This document sets out The King's Fund's priorities for the incoming government. In doing so, it draws on our research and policy analysis, the experience of our health care improvement projects and the insight gained through our day-to-day dialogue with health professionals through our leadership development programmes.