It’s early days yet, but in terms of health policy the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have already promised that National Health Service spending will rise in real terms every year until the next election in 2014.

The news comes hot on the heels of the announcement that Andrew Lansley, MP for Cambridgeshire South, has bagged the role as health secretary in the historic coalition cabinet, the first in UK peacetime for more than 80 years.

A former civil servant, Lansley’s history as an active Conservative goes back to the 1980s, but his first dalliance with health came in 2003 under Michael Howard when he began his former role as shadow health secretary.

Commenting on his appointment, Steve Barnett, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that his organisation is looking forward to “continuing the constructive relationship we had developed while he was in opposition”.

Noting that the NHS faces “significant challenges” in its quest to make £15-20 billion of efficiency savings over the next five years, Barnett called for unity, stressing that “all relevant groups to work together so that we can safeguard public support of and confidence in the NHS”.

Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the British Medical Association, said the new government presents an opportunity “to continue the spirit of co-operation and pragmatism, exemplified by their coalition agreement, which will be needed in the tight financial climate we face in the health service”.

“There are extremely difficult decisions ahead and more than ever, we need a period of stability and a working environment that encourages partnership and co-operation,” he said, but warned against cutting clinical staff of frontline services under “intense pressure to make savings”.

The new health secretary certainly has a huge task ahead of him, particularly as under the spirit of coalition new policies will likely incorporate strands of both the Tory and Lib Dems’ health manifestos.

IT change?
A key area in which we are likely to see big changes is NHS IT, according to, as both parties are keen on to step away from large centrally-held contracts and the national Summary Care Record.

The Conservatives are hot on slashing ‘unnecessary’ bureaucracy, decentralising power and giving people more control in making their own healthcare decisions and, under this broader policy, have somewhat controversially touched on the idea of handing over the keys to health records to patients.

In addition, the Libs Dems’ pre-election plans for health include slashing the Department of Health in half, dumping what it sees as unnecessary quangos - such as Connecting for Health, perhaps - and chopping the budget of others, under plans to significantly cut spending and slash deficits.

Prime Minister David Cameron will lead the first cabinet meeting today, in which he is widely expected to reveal the remainder of his fresh ministerial team, and over the next few weeks we are likely to get a clearer view of the new government’s plans for the health service.