The Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats all made commitments to increase funding for the NHS in a context in which NHS organisations are facing the prospect of growing deficits and difficulties in delivering key targets on patient care. Improving access to general practitioners and promoting closer integration of care were other areas on which the parties agreed. Not surprisingly, they differed on the role of competition – most obviously in the Conservatives’ continuing commitment to develop the market in healthcare whereas Labour is seeking to save money by reducing competition and making the NHS the preferred provider of services. The Liberal Democrats made their mark with a pledge to give priority to mental health.
The commitments made on funding varied in their specificity and generosity. The Conservatives promised to ensure a real terms increase in NHS funding, leaving open the question of whether this would be just above the level required to cover the costs of inflation, as in the current parliament, or more generous. Labour announced its plans to establish a 'Time to Care' fund of £2.5 billion (€3.2 billion; $4 billion), widely interpreted as over and above the annual inflation uplift for the NHS, although the full amount promised will not become available until 2017-18. The Liberal Democrats promised to increase funding in real terms by £1 billion in 2016-17 and 2017-18, as well as reviewing funding for 2015-16 in this year’s autumn statement, while holding out the prospect of bigger increases towards the end of the next parliament.