The Liberal Democrats have pledged to create a cross-party health and care “convention”, with input from nurses, to review the long-term financial sustainability of the NHS and its workforce.
The group, which would be independent, would work with patients, the public and both NHS and care staff, said the party in a statement over the weekend.
“This is just the first step in our plan to protect health and care services long-term”
Part of its remit would be to review the longer-term sustainability of health and care finances and the workforce, as well as looking at greater integration of services, said the Liberal Democrats.
The policy pledge was among five key election commitments outlined on Saturday by the party and encompassing public health, social care, primary care and mental health.
Its “flagship” policy is to immediately add an extra 1p on income tax to provide an emergency injection of resources to tackle the funding crisis affecting the health and social care sector.
The move would raise around £6bn a year and would be ring-fenced to be spent only on the NHS and social care, according to the party.
The party also said that, of the £6bn total, at least £2bn would be dedicated to social care in the next financial year, in order to match current projections for a funding gap in the sector.
“We are prepared to be honest with people and say that we will all need to chip in a little more”
Overall, the tax increase would provide “vital services with the money they desperately need until a longer-term solution can be found”, the party said.
In addition, it pledged to direct extra resources specifically to settings outside hospital, as they were where it said money could be “spent most efficiently” and have the “greatest impact” on patients.
It also said that in future it would introduce a “dedicated health and care tax” and create a new independent agency to monitor budgets for health and care.
The policies, the party’s first major announcements for the election, form the core part of a “five-point recovery plan” for NHS and social care services, which will feature in its manifesto.
The party has risked controversy by suggesting a tax increase because it believes that the public would support a tax increase to fund the health service, based on previous surveys.
It quoted a poll for ITV of 1,000 people last October that suggested at least 70% of the population would happily pay an extra 1p in every pound if that money was guaranteed to go to the NHS.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “The Liberal Democrats will rescue the NHS and social care. We are prepared to be honest with people and say that we will all need to chip in a little more.”
Norman Lamb, the party’s spokesman on health and a former minister, added: “A penny on the pound to save the NHS is money well spent in our view.
“Simply providing more money on its own is not enough and that’s why this is just the first step in our plan to protect health and care services long-term,” said Mr Lamb.
“We also need to do much more to keep people fit and healthy and out of hospital, and that is why this new funding will be targeted to those areas that have the greatest impact on patient care such as social care, general practice, mental health and public health,” he noted.
In response to the policy pledges, Lucy Powell, Labour Party candidate for Manchester Central, concentrated on the Liberal Democrats’ record while part of the coalition government.
“They helped the Tories take our NHS backwards by making it harder to see your GP, putting hospitals into financial crisis and wasting £3bn on a top-down reorganisation of the NHS,” she said.
Liberal Democrat “five-point recovery plan” for NHS and social care:
- A 1% rise on the basic, higher, additional and dividend rates of income tax in the next financial year raising around £6bn per year, which will be ringfenced to be spent on NHS and care services and public health
- To direct this additional investment into priority areas: social care, primary care (and other out of hospital care), mental health and public health which we know represent the most efficient and effective ways of spending extra resource
- In the longer term, introduce a dedicated health and care tax, which will bring together spending on both services into a collective budget and set out, transparently, on people’s payslips about what is spent on them
- Establish a cross-party health and care convention, working with patients, the public and NHS and care staff to review longer-term sustainability of the health and care finances and workforce, and greater integration
- Introduce a statutory independent budget monitoring agency for health and care. An Office of Health and Care Funding, similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility. This would report every three years on how much money the system needs based on meeting government health targets and to fund new initiatives, while also covering projected increases in demand