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Conservatives Pledge To Bring Care “Closer To Home”

The Conservative Party has announced a pledge to build 100 new GP surgeries and ‘modernise’ a further 150, should they win the upcoming general election.

The party says it would also expand the number of treatments pharmacies can offer without people seeing their GP first.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the plan would make it easier for patients to get the care they need and help relieve pressure on hospitals.

The Tories said they wanted to expand the Pharmacy First scheme, which was launched in January and allows people in England to go to their local pharmacy for seven common conditions, rather than their GP, as well as get a prescription for the oral contraceptive pill.

Under the party’s plans for the next parliament, pharmacies would also be able to offer contraceptive patches and injections, as well as treatment for more conditions, including acne and chest infections.

It said this would free up 20 million GP appointments once fully rolled out.

The party has also pledged to build 50 new Community Diagnostic Centres, which it said would deliver a further 2.5 million tests a year once scaled up.

The plans, expected to cost £1bn per annum would be paid for by cutting the number of NHS managers to pre-pandemic levels and halving management consultancy spend across government.

It said an overhaul of planning guidance would also help pay for 100 new GP surgeries and 150 surgery modernisations, by ensuring health gets a bigger proportion of contributions from housing developers.

Mr Sunak said:
“As part of our clear plan we are investing in community services making it quicker, easier and more convenient for patients to receive the care they need and help to relieve pressure on hospital services.”

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said:
“Pharmacies, GPs and Community Diagnostic Centres are the backbone of our NHS. Because of bold action we have taken, they are more accessible in more places for more people.”

The National Pharmacy Association said the plan to extend the pharmacy scheme was an “affordable way to cut waiting times”.

But the association’s chief executive, Paul Rees, said community pharmacies were currently “chronically underfunded” and more investment to was needed to prevent closures and the system being “irreparably damaged”.

The Conservatives said 98% of pharmacies had signed up to the scheme and those already involved were receiving more funding.

Thea Stein, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust said:
“Moving care closer to people’s homes is absolutely the right aspiration if we are to move the NHS away from being a sickness service. We will only truly address the healthcare needs of people living longer, often with multiple health conditions if we invest in the kinds of services that support people to manage their healthcare needs. So an expansion of pharmacy first and more diagnostic centres is welcome.

“But let’s be under no illusion: these are small-scale proposals and they come after years of money flowing away from community services and towards hospitals. Our analysis published just this week showed that funding growth for acute hospital health services hugely outpaced growth in funding for services provided closer to home. Spending on community services – which covers health visiting, district nursing and school nursing – was cut in real terms in three out of the six years to 2022/23 – and spend per person fell by 4.2% when patient need is included.

“Moving care closer to home should not be a “pick and mix” of different proposals, however laudable they might be individually. It’s about sustained, holistic investment in and support for a range of services that provide most of the healthcare in this country. It’s about building up these services to support people’s health and wellbeing in their own right, rather than simply to alleviate pressures on hospital. It’s about moving our collective gaze beyond the hospital, and matching that aspiration with the right funding and right priorities to make it work.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“To deliver the step change in health and wellbeing that this country needs, we need to increase investment and support for services that are delivered in the community and close to people’s homes, so we welcome these proposals. This is the right direction of travel if we want to place the NHS on a more sustainable footing.

“For most people, being treated at or close to home is what is best for their health and how they want to be cared for, and it’s also cost-effective for the NHS. To make this a reality, we need to see whoever is elected next shift more resources into primary care, community services and social care. But as our survey of NHS leaders this week revealed, many NHS organisations are having to make short term cuts to their clinical and administrative staff to balance their books. We can’t let our long term ambitions to expand the NHS workforce and shift more care into the community be derailed by short term cost pressures.

“The Conservatives proposals to extend Pharmacy First will build on the success of this scheme in widening the treatments that pharmacists are providing. This is not only good for the public in accessing safe and convenient care for minor conditions more quickly, but it is also helping to ease some of the considerable burden on GPs and their teams. But pharmacy is also experiencing the same staffing and estate issues as general practice, so any expansion of the scheme would need to consider how best to address that capacity crunch.

“Overall, this is the right direction of travel but it requires more support and investment for primary care, community and social care services – and successive governments have rarely delivered on this ambition. We have an ageing, increasingly sicker, population but with only flat funding to deal with rising demand for care, public spending plans for 2025 onwards are looking perilous. The Conservatives proposals to fund their plans by further cutting NHS management costs needs to be considered carefully against the fact that the NHS is already under-managed, and with managers playing a key role in efforts to improve NHS productivity.

“The transition to delivering more care in the community is therefore right but likely to require extra funding, especially in capital given the primary care estate, and other parts of the NHS estate, are in a poor state. From our own research, we know that investing in primary and community care services delivers the greatest economic return. We therefore encourage all parties to make this a key component of their manifesto commitments on health and care.”

 

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