Liberal Democrat Party general election manifesto 2024 : NHS Confederation analysis

Analysis of the Liberal Democrat Party's health and care pledges in their general election manifesto.
Eleanor Goldberg

10 June 2024

Key pledges

  • Give everyone the right to see a GP within seven days, or within 24 hours if they urgently need to, with 8,000 more GPs to deliver on it.

  • Guarantee access to an NHS dentist for everyone needing urgent and emergency care.

  • Improve early access to mental health services by establishing mental health hubs for young people in every community and introducing regular mental health check-ups at key points in people’s lives when they are most vulnerable to mental ill-health.

  • Boost cancer survival rates and introduce a guarantee for 100% of patients to start treatment for cancer within 62 days from urgent referral.

  • Implement a ten-year capital investment plan for hospitals and the primary care estate.

  • Help people to spend five more years of their life in good health by investing in public health.

  • Introduce free personal care and create a workforce plan for social care.

This briefing analyses the health and care pledges set out in Liberal Democrat party’s manifesto for the 2024 general election. The full manifesto can be accessed here:

  • The Liberal Democrats have pledged to increase the number of full-time equivalent GPs by 8,000, half by boosting recruitment and half from retaining more experienced GPs. The party says this will allow them to give everyone the right to see a GP or the most appropriate practice staff member within seven days, or within 24 hours if they urgently need to. It adds that arranging GP appointments will be made easier by a 24/7 online booking system.

    The party has also said it will boost early access to mental health services. For children and young people there will be a dedicated mental health professional in every school, opening community walk-in services for children and young people and extending young people’s mental health services up to the age of 25 to end the drop-off experienced by young people transitioning to adult services.

    The party has said it will offer regular mental health check-ups at key points in people’s lives and end inappropriate out of area placements. They would also end inappropriate inpatient treatment for people with autism and learning disabilities.

    The Liberal Democrats have pledged to take action on suicide through a focus on community suicide prevention services, improving prevention training for frontline NHS staff and increasing access to talking therapies.

    They hope to improve cancer survival rates by guaranteeing that 100% of patients will be able to start treatment within 62 days from urgent referral and by recruiting more cancer nurses.

    For urgent and emergency care, the party has said it would end excessive handover delays for ambulances by increasing the number of staffed hospital beds. In addition, the party would publish localised reports of ambulance response times and would create an emergency fund to reverse closures of community ambulance stations and cancel planned closures where needed.

    Supporting the improved access to NHS services, the Lib Dems say they will address workforce issues by establishing a “properly independent” pay review body; retaining more staff across the NHS through a ten-year retention plan; making flexible working a day-one right; and by ending spending on agency workers while encouraging the use of flexible staff banks. On international recruitment, the party has said it will “fix” the work visa system and exempt NHS and care staff from the Immigration Skills Charge.

  • The Liberal Democrats have placed significant focus on social care within their manifesto which would free up capacity in the NHS and would be backed by a cross-party commission to forge a long-term agreement on sustainable funding for social care.

    A key policy pledge is that the party would instigate free personal care similar to the arrangement that was introduced in Scotland in 2002, so that provision can be based on need, rather than a person’s ability to pay.

    To support the struggling social care workforce, they have said they will introduce a social care workforce plan which would include a minimum wage for care workers £2 higher than the current national minimum wage, clear career pathways linked to recommended pay scales, and a career ladder to allow flexibility to work across the NHS and social care, allowing staff to gain experience in both. This would all be supported by a new Royal College of Care Workers. 

    They hope that these measures would allow them to recruit more care workers, including through ethical international recruitment. 

    The Lib Dems also plan to support unpaid carers with an increased Carer’s Allowance and by expanding eligibility for it, introducing a statutory guarantee of regular respite breaks for unpaid carers, introducing paid carer’s leave, making caring a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and establishing a Young Carers Pupil Premium. These measures could lead to more people being cared for at home, thus reducing pressure on the health and social care system. 

  • The Liberal Democrats have pledged to allow everyone access to an NHS dentist in urgent and emergency situations. They say this will be achieved by bringing dentists back to the NHS from the private sector after fixing the NHS dental contract and using flexible commissioning to meet patient needs.

    They also plan to take preventative action on tooth decay by providing supervised toothbrushing training for children in nurseries and schools and scrapping VAT on children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste.

  • The Liberal Democrats said they would implement a ten-year plan to invest in hospitals and the primary care estate to end the “scandal of crumbling roofs, dangerous concrete and life-expired buildings”. This would be backed by £1.1 billion of investment a year over the next Parliament. 

  • The Liberal Democrats have said that by investing in public health, they would help people to spend five more years of their life in good health. This would include increasing the Public Health Grant, with a proportion of the extra funding set aside for those experiencing the worst health inequalities to co-produce plans for their communities, and by establishing a ‘Health Creation Unit’ in the Cabinet Office to lead work across government to improve the nation’s health and tackle health inequalities.

    They have said they would bring in regulations to halt the dangerous use of vapes by children while recognising their role in smoking cessation for adults, and banning the sale of single-use vapes. They also said they would introduce a new levy on tobacco company profits to help fund healthcare and smoking cessation services.

    The party has said it would expand social prescribing, grow access to blood pressure tests in community spaces and combat air pollution and poor air quality in public buildings with a Clean Air Act.

    The party has pledged to protect children from exposure to junk food by supporting local authorities to restrict outdoor advertising and restricting TV advertising to post-watershed and by extending the soft drinks levy to juice-based and milk-based drinks that are high in added sugar.

Confed viewpoint 

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is very health and social care focussed which is welcome. The party is the first of the campaign to come forward with proposals to reform social care - this will be positive for members who have long been saying that the challenges faced by the NHS cannot be fully resolved without adequate focus on social care, including a social care workforce plan which the Lib Dems have pledged to deliver. 

In addition to greater support for social care, we would like to see more detail on how the party would look to further integrate health and care services to improve the continuity of care, reduce waits for people medically fit but unable to leave hospital and ultimately improve overall outcomes. Integrated Care Systems have a crucial role to play in leading this change that goes beyond better care but will improve efficiency and optimise use of local assets and resources.

The party’s plan for investing in public health is fairly aligned with the NHS Confederation’s call for a cross-government strategy for national health, for example through the pledge for a ‘Health Creation Unit’ to sit within the Cabinet Office. Also, it is promising that the party would introduce new legislation and measures that would seek to limit smoking and vaping following the Tobacco and Vapes Bill not making it through parliamentary “wash up”.

The pledge to introduce community mental health hubs for children and young people is something for which we have been calling for some time, so this is welcome, though of course the policy’s impact will depend on how many hubs they establish which is not detailed in the manifesto. Meanwhile, the plan to extend children and young people’s services to 25 years old would be positive for patients as it would avoid that cliff edge where young people are deemed too old for children’s services and too young for adult services. That said, we await details that would set out how this would be delivered, including around how the workforce would be trained to meet the needs of a wider range of ages. 

While the mention of investment in NHS capital is positive and in particular the acknowledgement that primary care estates are in need of modernisation, the £1.1bn per year of investment pledged falls significantly short of the £6.4 billion increase needed so we await the detail on how exactly they propose to address the issues with this limited funding. 

This also appears to be a longer-term policy, offering nothing to address immediate issues. Nuffield Trust analysis notes that increases detailed in the manifesto amount to real terms increases of just 1.5 per cent, only marginally higher than the austerity low point.

The pledges around increasing staffing are critical to the success of all of the other policies outlined, and the target to have everyone seen by a GP within a week, or 24 hours for urgent cases will be well received. However, the proof will be in the pudding regarding how achievable this policy is, having seen previous pledges to increase GP numbers fall flat. This will be particularly important given that the BMA does not support the current GP contract and our own primary care members want to see changes. Likewise, the target to boost cancer survival rates by introducing a guarantee for 100% of patients to start treatment for cancer within 62 days from urgent referral will have a big impact on the many people affected by cancer, but there is a lack of detail on how this would be achieved. 

Lastly, the various pledges for more services in the community around public health, mental health and care are welcome as they will allow local leaders to prioritise based on their populations and will mean more patients can receive care closer to home.