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Monday, 02 February 2015

Engage: Health and social care debate heating up in run-up to election 2015

Written by Professor Chris Ham

As debate on the future of the NHS rises up the agenda ahead of the general election in May, the government can take comfort from our report on the British Social Attitudes Survey 2014, which shows public satisfaction with the NHS at its second highest level since the survey began in 1983.

Coming hard on the heels of reports of the NHS being under pressure from increasing A&E attendances and emergency admissions, the survey puts into perspective the performance of the NHS overall and the value we attach to it.

A major part of the debate is bound to be on funding and whether politicians are willing to commit to the increases set out by NHS England and other national bodies in the NHS five year forward view. It is remarkable how far the discussion has moved since the early autumn, when I wrote about the deafening silence on this issue. The party conferences provided an opportunity for the main parties to outline their plans and to demonstrate much greater realism about the need for additional funding, even though their spending plans still lack detail.

As in previous elections, the Fund has a role to play in helping people to understand and engage with the health debate and to ensure it is, as far as possible, informed by evidence and objective analysis – not just political rhetoric. Our general election tracker is telling the story of the debate as it develops. We are publishing facts and figures on many of big issues and will be trying to answer questions like, how much money does the NHS need? 

During elections we have a record of hosting speeches and debates involving politicians from across the spectrum. The first of a series of election-themed events took place last week on the topic of mental health, following on from an event at the Fund at which Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb announced the government’s plans to reduce suicide rates and improve access to services.

Andy Burnham was here on Tuesday to announce the Labour Party’s 10-year plan for health and social care. The plan includes a commitment to repeal the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and to put the emphasis on integration and collaboration rather than competition. We hope spokespeople from the other main parties will come to the Fund in the next couple of months to explain their plans.

We set out our own priorities for the next government in the manifesto we published in September. We will be making further contributions with reports on the government’s record on NHS reform in February and its record on NHS performance in March. Both reports will seek to separate fact from fiction and will offer an independent and hopefully authoritative assessment of what has and hasn’t happened over the past five years.

Our contribution to the election debate is to help those interested in health and social care – patients, professionals, policy-makers, and taxpayers – feel as well-informed and able to make sense of the political battles as is possible.

About the Author

Professor Chris Ham is Chief Executive of The King's Fund. He is an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London and of the Royal College of General Practitioners. He has authored 20 books and numerous articles in academic and professional journals about health policy and management.

Here, he was writing on the Kings Fund Blog which offers comment and analysis on the key issues surrounding health and social care in England.

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