General election

General election: Rishi Sunak launches Conservative manifesto

The prime minister Rishi Sunak formally launched the Conservative party manifesto at an event in Silverstone today.

This comes after ambitious healthcare pledges had already been revealed by the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto launch earlier this week — the Labour Party are expected to launch their manifesto on Thursday.

Headline commitments

The manifesto promises that, by the end of the next parliament, there will be 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors in the NHS than in 2023, along with NHS spending increasing above inflation each year over the next Parliament.

The Conservatives also pledge to expand the Pharmacy First scheme, build or modernise 250 GP surgeries, and build 50 more community diagnostic centres.

The New Hospital Programme has received a renewed commitment and the Conservatives will invest “proportionately more in out-of-hospital services over time.”

The manifesto recalls pledges made by chancellor Jeremy Hunt at the Spring Budget earlier this year, including using AI to free up doctors’ and nurses’ time and saving them millions of hours in time.

The £3.4bn investment in new technology and the NHS Productivity Plan will see productivity rise by 1.9% a year from 2025/26, in turn unlocking £35bn of cumulative savings by 2030.

This will be supported by making the NHS App the ‘front door’ to the NHS through medical record, prescription, and appointment functionality.

The Conservatives say that mental health should have parity of esteem with physical health and will expand coverage of Mental Health Support Teams from 50% to 100% of schools and colleges in England by the end of the decade.

Opening early support hubs for those aged 11-25 in every local community by 2030 is also included, as is increasing the planned expansion of NHS Talking Therapies by 50%, supporting people with anxiety, stress and depression.

Furthermore, they will boost the capacity of Individual Placement and Support for Severe Mental Illness by 140,000 places, and pass a new law to improve treatment and support for severe mental health needs in the first session of the next Parliament.

Other commitments include:

  • Giving local authorities a multi-year funding settlement to support social care and taking forward the reform from the People at the Heart of Care whitepaper
  • Implementing the planned reforms to cap social care costs from October 2025
  • Making further reforms to the dental contract
  • Training more staff in rural areas
  • Growing opportunities for all types of provider (NHS, charity & private) to deliver services free of charge to NHS patients, where eligible
  • Reducing the number of NHS managers by 5,500
  • Renewed commitment to the Major Conditions Strategy and Tobacco and Vapes Bill
  • Rolling out digital health checks to 250,000 more people every year
  • Bring forward a national strategy for maternity care
  • Completing the implementation of the Cass Review
  • Fully funding the scheme to deliver compensation as part of the Infected Blood Compensation Authority

Industry reaction

Responding to the manifesto, the NHS Confederation’s CEO, Matthew Taylor, welcomed the real-terms funding rises but questioned whether they would be accompanied by “stringent performance or productivity targets.”

He said: “The NHS is already struggling in the face of rising demand, ongoing industrial action and a difficult financial position – so we would be very concerned if more pressure was piled on to health service leaders and their teams.

“Likewise, the promise of a continued rise in doctors and nurses is welcome and we are very pleased to see the increase in clinical staff. But there is a difference between having more staff and having enough staff and clearly there is still a gap between the workforce the NHS has and the demand it is facing.”

This underlines the importance of fully funding and delivering the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, added Taylor.

“Pledges to cut managers may grab headlines but the NHS is under-managed compared to international health systems and other parts of the UK workforce. Cutting 5,500 managers may save cash but this could pile more paperwork on to clinicians, when they should be given more time to look after their patients.”

NHS Providers’ CEO, Sir Julian Hartley, responded: “With commitments spanning the breadth and depth of workforce, social care and digital to public health, capital and mental health, trust leaders will closely scrutinise the wide range of proposals put forward in the Conservative Party manifesto.

“Nurturing a thriving health and care workforce is essential to delivering safe, high-quality patient care now and in the years to come. With over 100,000 vacancies in the health service in England alone, it is vital that any future government commits to implementing and fully funding the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

“Efforts to retain staff and improve working conditions must be paramount. Central to this is recognising and valuing the contribution of all NHS staff — including NHS managers.”

NHS Providers’ deputy CEO, Saffron Cordery, exclusively spoke to National Health Executive recently to explain why the NHS must be at the heart of every manifesto.

Sir Julian Hartley added: "Trust leaders will be encouraged by commitment to NHS funding needs and the promise to deliver the New Hospital Programme by 2030.

“With vital parts of the NHS crumbling due to years of inadequate investment and hospital, mental health and community trusts facing an eye-watering £11.6bn backlog of essential repairs, an infrastructure programme for the NHS cannot be delivered soon enough.”

The Health Foundation’s CEO, Dr Jennifer Dixon, says that economic growth is being stymied by long-term health conditions causing unemployment and the plans offer nothing to get people back into the labour market or improve their health, with benefit cuts expected to “simply drive more people into poverty and worsen health.”

She added: “The Conservative manifesto is an ambitious wish-list, but it’s hard to have confidence in delivery when there is so little detail on how the plans will be achieved.”

Sarah Woolnough, CEO at The King’s Fund, said: “The pledge that the NHS will be meeting all waiting time standards by the end of the next Parliament is certainly ambitious, but the manifesto lacks detail on how this monumental task would be achieved.

“Overall, the NHS pledges in the Conservative manifesto are a welcome collection of initiatives, but they don’t add up to the transformational change needed to improve performance and reverse the downward trend of public satisfaction in the NHS.”

The Conservative manifesto is available in full here.

Image credit: iStock

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