The Liberal Democrat party has unveiled its vision for the future of the National Health Service, laying out plans to remove political interference and give communities “genuine control” over local services.

"Sixty years after it was founded, the NHS is in desperate need of a new direction. The battle for extra investment has largely been won, but the service we are getting is simply not good enough,” said party leader Nick Clegg. "The question is not ‘how much’, but ‘how we spend the money’ so that everyone gets the healthcare they need."

Empowering patients by putting them in the driving seat of healthcare is certainly high on the party’s agenda, and it suggests replacing “unaccountable Primary Care Trusts” with elected local Health Boards to put people fully in charge of decisions about their local health services.

In addition, the party wants to introduce a ‘Care Guarantee’, spending £2 billion on a personal care payment for all elderly people requiring care, based on their need and not ability to pay.

"We are the first Party with serious plans to end the punishing poverty which afflicts the many elderly people forced to pay for their personal care entirely out of their own pocket,” claimed Clegg. “It simply isn’t possible to be committed to a free and fair NHS without ending this scandalous injustice."

Waiting times penalty
Also set out in the policy paper are proposals to establish a ‘patient contract’, which basically guarantees every member of the public access to a “high standard of core healthcare entitlements within maximum waiting times”. And should the NHS fail to meet these waiting times, it would have to foot the bill for private treatment instead, the party suggests.

Commenting on the Lib Dems’ vision, NHS Confederation chief Gill Morgan said that, while there is a real need to develop greater accountability in the NHS, “we are disappointed to see the proposed changes to the SHA model. The last thing that the NHS needs is further restructuring and disruption to patient care. Both the existing structures and new accountability arrangements of the NHS need time to bed in and develop their full potential.”