by Dr Murray Ellender

Election Tension Mounts

The biggest pawn in this election

There’s no doubt that the NHS is a major pawn in the general election campaigns of all the major parties. We all know the NHS is in crisis: what’s less clear is which political party has the most credible, and deliverable, solutions to its various problems.

In a recent article, King’s Fund chairman Chris Ham pointed out that there is more that unites the major parties than divides them when it comes to their manifestos on the NHS.  You would never know that, though, from the hype and hysteria peddled by the media – some of it fuelled by what the politicians themselves are saying.

With just days to go to the election on 8 June, it was of course inevitable that the NHS and Brexit, two of voters’ key concerns, would be linked in the news, with the Nuffield Trust’s warning that if pensioners living in Europe are not guaranteed the right to stay and access free healthcare after Brexit, the cost to the NHS could be more than £500m if they decide to come back to the UK.

The Prime Minister has pledged to ‘look after’ Brits living abroad and ‘protect their rights’, and of course, we have to take a broad view of the statistics because not every expat would or could come back to the UK for free healthcare.  But the problems don’t end there.  If the number of nurses and care workers currently coming to the UK from Europe fell, the cost of Brexit could be higher still.

“A shortfall of 70,000 paid carers by 2025/26”

According to the Nuffield Trust, there could be a shortfall of 70,000 paid carers by 2025/26 if the migration of unskilled workers from Europe is no longer permitted.  Add to this a predicted shortage of 20,000 nurses within the same timeframe if future migration from the EU is prevented, plus a likely rise in the cost of drugs once we leave the European medicines licensing system – estimated to cost another £100m – and it’s clear that the way in which our exit from the EU is handled is very important indeed for our healthcare system.  But which party can we trust with this delicate task?

Narrowing gap

The latest polls are suggesting a likely reduction in Prime Minister Theresa May’s majority, as the gap between Labour and the Conservatives continues to narrow.  But whichever party prevails on 8 June, as a GP myself I have to hope that the GP Forward View is still supported.

Election pledges abound – the Conservatives have promised seven-day access to a GP by 2019, while the Lib Dems want to expand GP access with evening and weekend opening while encouraging online, phone and Skype appointments.

“Statistics say each of us already visits our GP an average of six times a year (double the number of visits ten years ago), yet we’re faced with a shrinking GP workforce and what looks set to be an ever-growing need.”

Statistics say each of us already visits our GP an average of six times a year (double the number of visits ten years ago), yet we’re faced with a shrinking GP workforce and what looks set to be an ever-growing need.  The £45m GP Forward View funding allocated by NHS England over the next three years to help GP practices purchase online consultation schemes will help us cope with this rising demand for appointments, as well as allowing us the flexibility to spend longer with patients who have more complex health issues.

Whatever the outcome of next week’s general election, let’s hope it’s not at the expense of technology-enabled care, which can go such a long way towards meeting patients’ needs while giving GPs the scope to meet current and future demands.