Headlines: May 24th, 2001

The three main parties have set out their visions for the health service and their willingness to commit resources. An analysis of spending plans by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has revealed that the differences in tax and expenditure between the parties represent less than 1% of GDP in each direction. In neither case is this enough to immediately transform the overall quality of public provision. Looking beyond 2003/04 the Institute finds that if high spending is maintained on health and education, there will either have to be an increase in the tax take or severe restraint in other areas such as transport, policing or defence.The Liberal Democrats have outlined a vision of a radical change in attitudes towards health provision in Britain. They believe that there is a need to harness the potential of the NHS to shift the focus away from expensive and traumatic and invasive surgery towards early, cost-effective, on-the-spot detection, prevention and treatment. This will need a fundamental culture shift to put a greater emphasis on prevention and early detection so that the NHS is a health service and not an illness service.

The Conservatives have pledge to match Labour’s spending plans. but to spend the money differently. The objective will be to raise care and survival rate and targets will be based on outcomes. A different approach will be taken in deciding priorities and the sickest person will be healed first, but decisions will be taken by doctors. There will be a partnership between the public and private sectors.

Labour plans include greater involvement of the private sector. There will be 20,000 more nurses and 10,000 more doctors and a new University of the NHS to help realise the potential of one million health service staff – from the hospital porter to the hospital consultant. The university will be a partnership between the NHS, existing universities and the private sector and it will provide a core education curriculum for face to face teaching and e-learning.