Election 2015: a healthcare lawyer’s take

7 May 2015 – Election Day. Parliament will dissolve on 30 March 2015 as the nation braces itself for new policies from the party or parties that will form a government.

Health and social care has always been a politically charged topic and a recent poll shows that the electorate has branded this as one of the most important issues in deciding how it will vote.

Pressures and scrutiny on health and social care services are greater than ever. In the run up to Election Day we take the opportunity to examine the various parties’ proposals in respect of a key topic – integrated care, what it entails and the implications on healthcare lawyers and their clients.

One of the reasons for the strain is the ageing population. Projections suggest that the number of people aged 65+ will rise by nearly 50 per cent in the next 17 years to over 16 million, the population over 75 will double, and the number of people over 85 will nearly treble in the next 30 years.

There is widespread concern for people, particularly the elderly, who experience delayed discharge from hospital sometimes due to the difficulty arranging a social care package. 

It would seem that integrated care is not only ideal, it is much needed, and many will be watching the high profile innovations in Greater Manchester announced recently.

Labour pledges integration of care from home to hospital. Andy Burnham has suggested that all hospitals will be asked to evolve into integrated care organisations, with acute trusts taking on delivery of adult social care.

The Conservative party also advocates increasing integration of the health and social care systems, and will point to their “Better Care Fund” initiative as an example of this.

The Liberal Democrats explicitly endorse the integrated vision in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View (the Five Year Plan).

The political parties seem generally agreed that integrated care is the way forward, so whatever the outcome of the election, we can expect this to be the direction of travel. But where will it get us?

The Five Year Plan could be a good place to start. Widespread consensus is that the Plan outlines persuasively the case for change in the NHS and crucially, provides new models of care needed in the future.

Whatever happens in health and social care now, after the Mid Staffs Inquiry and the implementation of Duty of Candour, it will happen under ever greater scrutiny, and the focus on quality care is more pressing than ever. As always, the devil will be in the detail, as we see exactly what the next government means by their “particular” vision of “integrated care”, and how they will get there, delivering both quality and value for money along the way.

What implications will this have on healthcare lawyers and their clients?

“Integrated care”, whatever it means in practice, will inevitably raise significant legal issues around:

  • Governance and accountability
  • Structure
  • Information sharing and joint working
  • Potential liabilities

It will no doubt be a busy time for the healthcare lawyers, and for their clients.

Sandra Wong is a trainee at Browne Jacobson