Lib Dems vow to address Tory ‘mess’ through health and care package

The Liberal Democrats are vowing to tackle ambulance delays as they turn their attention to health and care on Sunday, ahead of the party’s manifesto launch next week.

Leader Sir Ed Davey has already spoken about the plight of carers, when he opened up on camera about his experience caring for his son John, who has a neurological condition and learning difficulties.

On the campaign trail in Wokingham, Berkshire on Saturday, he told broadcasters: “The Liberal Democrats are putting health and care right at the centre of our election campaign, and on ambulance delays and waiting times, it’s been a crisis.

“We’ve seen in some parts of the country people’s loved ones dying before the ambulances arrive.

“We’ve seen queues at hospitals as ambulances are waiting to hand over their patients and something has to be done.

“We’ve got a comprehensive package to turn around this mess the Conservatives have made of ambulance services and that starts with extra beds – extra 1,000 beds in our hospitals.

“But it also links up to our care policies, so people can come out of hospitals more quickly, when they’re ready to.

“It’s better for them and their families, but it also frees up beds, so this type of comprehensive approach could completely get rid of these shocking ambulance delays.”

General Election campaign 2024
Sir Ed Davey playing a round at Wokingham Family Golf in Berkshire while on the General Election campaign trail (Will Durrant/PA)

Sir Ed described his party’s pledges as “very ambitious” and said they were “comprehensive” – making reference to GP care and community pharmacists so “people don’t go into hospital in the first place”.

In a video produced by the Lib Dems, Sir Ed visited Nottingham, where he grew up caring for his mother Nina, who developed breast cancer and died aged 46.

He now cares for his son and said: “As I’ve got older and had all those caring responsibilities, seen life through the eyes of my son, (I) could not be more passionate and determined to sort out caring in this country.”

The Lib Dems’ manifesto pledge will feature an upfront capital investment of £280 million to expand urgent treatment centres and A&E wards, and an additional £400 million a year to add an extra 1,000 staffed beds in hospitals.

According to the party, the pledge is “fully funded” and the manifesto will feature a dedicated care chapter.

Among its wider ambitions is a plan for 8,000 extra GPs and a 10-year rolling programme of hospital repairs, and a plan to up the Carer’s Allowance by £20 a week, from £81.90 to £101.90.

Other parties have also spoken about health in recent days.

In Melksham, Wiltshire, GP Dr Jane Lees-Millais heckled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and said: “The NHS is disintegrating. I am one of 2,500 GPs in this country who are currently unemployed due to your policies.”

Mr Sunak responded “I know a thing or two about” primary care as “my dad was a GP but my mum was also a pharmacist”.

The Conservative Party leader promised to support GPs with new investment in “digital telephony” and pointed to the Pharmacy First programme, which he said makes it “easier for people to see other primary care practitioners to get the treatments they need”, as another step taken to help GPs’ workload.

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting earlier this week criticised the Tories for cutting 2,000 GPs.

“Only Labour can deliver the change the NHS needs. We will train thousands more GPs and bring back the family doctor,” he said.

Commenting on the Lib Dems’ proposals, Professor Nicola Ranger of the Royal College of Nursing said: “To end corridor care for good, we desperately need to see a fully funded plan to grow the nursing workforce, including in preventative and outside hospital services.

“That’s how to ease the pressures on acute settings and ensure patients receive care closer to home.”

Professor Ranger also said: “Corridor care is a national emergency and ending it needs to be a priority for politicians in this election.

“Patients are being treated in inappropriate settings across the NHS, including waiting rooms and store cupboards – it’s absolutely unacceptable.

“Eradicating corridor care means revealing how widespread it is through mandatory national reporting.

“We must see specific instances, such as being left on a chair for more than 24 hours, become NHS ‘Never Events’.

“These are the commitments nursing staff want to hear from politicians.”

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: “The amounts of money set out in this announcement are relatively modest and wouldn’t ‘fix’ the urgent and emergency care crisis in isolation, but would constitute a helpful step in the right direction. It is a plan for incremental improvement, not rapid recovery.

“The Liberal Democrats rightly recognise that delays to discharging patients significantly limit a hospital’s ability to admit patients from A&E.

“Increasing the availability of social care support will be a key factor in helping people leave hospital, and the party’s plans for free personal care would be a significant step towards improving access to state funded social care.”

She added that “a radical refocusing of the health and care system towards primary and community services” is needed to improve the NHS.

Dr Tim Cooksley, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Thousands of acute medical patients have been languishing in hospital corridors with tremendous physical and psychological harm. This is appalling and the trajectory terrifying.

“While this plan recognises the issue and is a start, it remains well short of the changes required to deliver a desperately needed and sustainable recovery.”