Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Luciana Berger, has announced the party’s plans for health and social care. She identified stopping Brexit and investing an extra £35 billion in the health service and social care over the next five years as their key pledges. Please see a summary of their proposals below:
• Raising £7 billion a year in additional revenue from a 1p rise on the basic, higher and additional rates of Income Tax. This would be ring-fenced to be spent only on NHS and social care services. This would amount to £35 billion in real terms over the next five years. Of the £35 billion, £32.2 billion would be spent in England, £1.8 billion in Wales and £1 billion in Northern Ireland. This revenue will be neither levied nor spent in Scotland, as the income tax policy is devolved.
o This funding would be focused on relieving the crisis in social care, tackling urgent workforce shortages, and investing in mental health and prevention services.
• Using £10 billion of capital funding to make the necessary investments in equipment, hospitals, community, ambulance and mental health services buildings. This would be paid for through government borrowing and would be on top of the £35 billion raised through income tax increases.
• Stopping Brexit to retain access to international workers and freedom of movement within the European Union.
• Reinstating nursing bursaries.
o This will initially be for specialist nurses as a priority, particularly where shortages are most acute such as mental health and learning disability nursing.
• Training more GPs and making better use of nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists, and other health professionals, as well as technological solutions, in order to end the shortage of GP appointments within five years.
• Producing a national workforce strategy to review the NHS’s future needs for all staff ensure training places are matched to future needs.
This policy places the party between the Conservatives and Labour in terms of the level of investment in the NHS, and reiterates their central concerns around mental health, workforce and the impact of Brexit on the NHS.
The Liberal Democrats had faced a significant amount of criticism for their health policies in recent weeks from key healthcare stakeholders. At their party conference, the party agreed a policy of a NHS top down reorganisation. The plans would see local councils tacking over NHS commissioning responsibilities. However, they are now under pressure to drop this policy, following criticism from sector experts. The Nuffield Trust’s Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said “the last thing the NHS needs is more messing about with its structures to be mandated from the center.” Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, Richard Murray, said such reforms would “eat up valuable time and energy” and “distract attention from the essential changes needed.” Notably, this top-down reorganisation is not mentioned in this announcement at all, indicating that the party may have dropped the controversial proposals. This will be clarified upon the release of the party’s formal manifesto.