This week the party health spokespeople set out their visions for the NHS - and mental health, public health and social care – at the Heath and Care debate, which we co-hosted.
There was substantial agreement across the parties. They all acknowledge the changing needs of an ageing population, which means health and care services need more money, more staff and closer integration.
There was, of course, also lively disagreement between panellists about how this could be achieved. In particular, the debate probed parties’ plans for funding the NHS – can they commit to finding the £8 billion Simon Stevens says the NHS will need by 2020, and where will this extra investment come from? Are the efficiency savings - that will go alongside this - achievable? And how is social care to be funded? Workforce pay was also a hot topic, with speakers vying to reassure health staff on the right balance of pay vs staffing levels.
Frustratingly, considerably less time was devoted to the issue at the heart of health and care: the experiences of patients, service users and their families. Surely the starting point of any planned reforms must be the needs of service users and carers, with the outcomes and quality of care that they can expect?
During the debate, our chief executive Jeremy Taylor noted how far we still are from realising the vision of “no decision about me without me” and asked what the politicians would do to make patient involvement a reality.
Politicians were all quick to acknowledge the importance of this: demonstrating how person centred care has moved up the agenda in recent years.
Jeremy Hunt spoke of the importance of putting patients in the driving seat and Andy Burnham agreed with him. Norman Lamb argued that support should focus on the needs of people, not institutions, and pointed to his championing of personal health budgets as an example of how to achieve this.
However, despite these warm words, person centred care is still far from embedded across the system, and there was little to be gleaned from the debate about how the politicians would change this, particularly in the context of their plans to devolve further accountability for health and care to local areas.
It is clear that there will be much for the National Voices coalition to do following the election to ensure that whichever party – or parties – form the next government understand what matters to people who use services, and make this their guiding principle for health and care. Our document Person centred care 2020, sets out a vision of what this could look like in practice. We look forward to continuing these conversations over the coming months.
Missed the debate? It’s available to view online here: http://www.healthdebate.net/
Sarah Hutchinson, Policy Advisor at National Voices @SarahHutchDPhil.