Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 12:40 UK

Lib Dem plan to cut NHS red tape

By Branwen Jeffreys
Health correspondent, BBC News

Hospital ward
Patients will be given more power through elected local health boards

The Liberal Democrats have promised to protect frontline services such as cancer, mental health and maternity despite a squeeze on the NHS budget.

Unlike the other two main parties, the Lib Dems are not making any commitment in their manifesto on the level of future NHS funding in England.

The promise to protect key services is based on efficiency savings including halving the Department of Health.

New elected Local health Boards would plan services in England.

The Lib Dems say £140m a year in management costs could be saved by scrapping the regional organisations in the health service, Strategic Health Authorities, and £100m a year by cuts at the Department of Health.

Lib Dems on health
Cut NHS bureaucracy by slashing Department of Health and scrapping strategic health authorities
Remove "unnecessary quangos"
Cut the number of Government targets
Cap pay and bonuses of NHS managers
Prioritise dementia research

On the controversial issue of the future of hospital services such as accident and emergency and maternity care the Lib Dems say their Local Health Boards would allow communities a greater say in deciding whether it was cost effective to maintain the existing pattern of services.

The health boards would replace the existing Primary Care Trusts, and healthcare would gradually be integrated with social care.

Under Lib Dem proposals family doctors would be asked to take a greater role in organising out of hours care. Unlike the conservative proposals which envisage re-negotiating the contract with all GPs, the Lib Dems say the NHS at a local level should have to include some local doctors in providing services.

In some areas consortia of GPs have won contracts for care at weekends and overnight, but they often face competition from commercial companies.

Binge drinking

The manifesto also commits the Lib Dems to reducing the health impact of excessive drinking through banning low cost selling, and supporting the principle of minimum pricing.

However in Scotland where the SNP has tried to introduce minimum pricing the plans have been opposed by the Lib Dems.

Commenting on the proposals, Alan Downey, Head of Public Sector at KPMG, said: "The Liberal Democrats have taken the brave step of refusing to ring fence the NHS budget for protection from public sector expenditure cuts.

"Objectively, it makes a lot of sense to include Health in the search for savings, because it means the pain of expenditure cuts can be more evenly spread."

But he said proposals to cut the Department of Health by half would "not be easy".

"It will be necessary to make major changes in the way that policy is developed, and Ministers may feel exposed as a result."

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