NHS revamp to ‘push up standards’

Article Source: Health And Fitness Journal

The coalition government has promised to revamp the health service in a bid to "drive up standards".

The policy document, which covers this parliament, promises to give people choice over which GP they want.

A special fund will also be set aside to pay for cancer drugs patients are struggling to get prescribed.

The coalition document also revealed it would set up an independent board to run the health service, while patients will be directly elected on to trusts.

This reflects a merging of policies as the Conservatives had championed the independent board – to allocate funds and advise local managers – while the Liberal Democrats wanted public representation on primary care trusts, which manage local services.

However, the document promised no top-down reorganisations – the number of health authorities and trusts have been changed three times in the past decade.

Interest to patients

But it is the measures directly affecting front-line services which will be of most interest to patients.

• It seems likely some of the A&E units and maternity wards earmarked for closure will be reviewed after the document promised to stop the "centrally dictated closures".

• Patients are also to be given choice over which GP they want to register with. This is something all three parties were keen on and comes after suggestions doctors operate "gentlemen’s agreements" by refusing to take on patients from other GPs’ lists.

• A single urgent care number will be introduced. This is designed to relieve the pressure on A&E services during out-of-hours in particular. It will allow patients with non-life threatening conditions and injuries to contact GPs, walk-in centres and pharmacy services.

• A cancer drugs fund – trailed by the Tories before the election – will be established from savings made by stopping the rise in national insurance employer contributions. The aim is to allow patients backed by their doctors to access drugs that they cannot get on the NHS.

Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, which represents managers, said: "We have an interesting combination of Lib Dem and Conservative policies which in the long-term can make some radical changes."

The document also gave details of where the government was aiming to save money in the health service.

It said the number of quangos will be "significantly cut" and the cost of administration reduced by a third.

However, staff on the front-line warned earlier this week that the savings being talked about – £20bn over three years – would make it inevitable that doctors and nurses would be hit and patient care suffer as a result.

These savings are needed despite the government promising to raise the budget above inflation – the NHS needs more money just to stay still because of rising demands from the ageing population, price of drugs and lifestyle problems such as obesity.

However, the document also reveals some of the areas where firm agreements do not seem to have been possible.

On social care, a commission has been promised to look at how the system is funded.

It will report within a year and comes after the Tories backed a voluntary insurance scheme, whereas the Lib Dems preferred universal payments, saying experience showed opt-in schemes were "unworkable".

In the lead up to the election, the Tories had also promised to end the target culture created by Labour.

But the document makes no specific promises on this, just saying that the government will seek to measure "health results that really matter".

In the introduction to the health section, the government said: "We want to free NHS staff from political micromanagement, increase democratic participation and make the NHS more accountable to the patients that it serves."

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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