The way you win elections is to understand the deep worries that the electorate have for themselves and their families. Having understood their concerns you then develop policies that will help them. It sounds simple; getting both of these things right is hard.
That is why Ed Miliband returning to the public concern about NHS waiting times that helped to win the 1997, 2001 and 2005 general elections is a recognition of just how anxious many people are about not being able to see their GP. In all three of those election victories bringing down the maximum waiting times was a major promise aimed at the concerns of millions of people.
And of course the next step that wins the election after that one is implementing policies that will really solve the public’s problems. Ed will know that the extra £100m promised yesterday will on its own not solve the problem that people will face over the next few years.
Over the last 10 years there has been a strong increase in demand to see GPs. This comes mainly from the increase in very old people who, as they age, get an increased number of long-term conditions. As we live to be older, as older people we are much more likely to have heart trouble, diabetes, breathing trouble, high blood pressure and depression. And by halfway through the next parliament the number of very old sicker people demanding to have a consultation with their GP will have increased by many many more than this money will be able to provide for.
Ed will know that without billions and billions of extra money the only way to meet this problem is by reforming the way in which GPs work. Currently the best GPs recognise this. They themselves – not their receptionists – talk over the phone to their patients and if the patient is happy with it they will have the consultation over the phone. Others are followed up with.
As long as the consultation is carried out by the GPs themselves, most patients do not feel the need to come in to see the doctor. This is more convenient for the patient and allows the doctor to consult with many more patients – leaving the face-to-face consultation for those that really need it.
At the moment a growing but small percentage of GPs carry this out. To meet the extra demand for healthcare by the end of the next parliament this will have to be the normal way of working of most GPs.
That is why this extra money is just a very small part of the necessary change in primary care. The NHS reform programme that has been outlined in John Oldham’s report on whole-person care commissioned by the Labour party will reform the way in which the NHS and social care works with the whole person.
Promises might win the first election but it will be the real improvement in services the results from implementing reforms of the way in which services work for the public that will win the second and the third terms of government.
Paul Corrigan was a health adviser to the last Labour government. He tweets @Paul_Corrigan
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