The Conservative Party has promised to continue the NHS transparency agenda and to give people “full access” to their electronic health records in its manifesto.
The health section of the manifesto, unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron in Swindon this morning, has more continuity with the party’s last manifesto and with its record in government than the Labour document launched yesterday.
The 2010 manifesto promised an “information revolution” for the NHS, “by making available detailed data about the performance of trusts, hospitals, GPs, doctors and other staff” so that people could see “who is providing a good service and who is falling behind.”
It also promised to “put patients in charge of their own health records”, with Cameron claiming that “you’ll be able to check your health records online in the same way that you do your bank account.”
The 2015 manifesto says that since then the Conservative-led coalition has put new data onto the NHS Choices website and implemented the friends and family test.
It says “we will boost transparency even further, ensuring you can access full information about the safety record of your hospital and other NHS or independent providers.”
The manifesto doesn’t discuss the fate of the earlier access to records pledge, which was steadily watered down to access to GP records and then a subset of them by the end of March this year.
However, it repeats the 2010 pledge saying: “we will give you access to your own electronic health records.”
In an apparent nod to the row over the care.data debacle, it also says the party will “retain your right to opt-out of your records being shared electronically.” But there is no mention of a 'paperless' NHS, or any new vision for digital working.
Overall, the manifesto seeks to underline the Conservative’s commitment to a free NHS, which is traditionally seen as a Labour strong point; although there is no repeat of the 2010 ‘health premium’ to divert money to poorer areas.
It says the party would spend “at least an additional £8 billion by 2020, over and above inflation” to support the Five Year Forward View launched by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens in October.
The plan called for action on public health and new models of health and social care to try and bridge a gap between flat funding and rising demand that could reach £30 billion without action.
Stevens estimated the plan is achievable if the NHS makes £22 billion of efficiency savings by 2020-21; with the remaining money needing to come from increased government funding.
Labour failed to make the pledge to find £8 billion yesterday; although its leader, Ed Miliband, has attacked the Tory pledge for being unfunded. The Conservative manifesto merely says the money will come from “economic growth.”
There are also no specific pledges to implement the 5YFV's new service models or plans for integrated health and social care services, which are likley to prove controversial if they lead to local service reorganisations.
The manifesto launches a savage attack on Labour’s record, claiming its reforms led to “micro-management” and a “cover up culture” that contributed to the well-known scandals at Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay NHS foundation trusts.
In a somewhat contradictory line, it says the Conservatives have acted to make the NHS “more accountable” in response, by introducing a tough new inspection regime run by the Care Quality Commission.
On a more positive note, the manifesto promises a “truly seven day” NHS, with better access to GPs and new medicines, as part of what Cameron described as a commitment to offer a "good life" to British workers and their families at his launch.