Health at the Ballot Box: How to Influence UK Health Policy After the General Election

Health at the Ballot Box: How to Influence UK Health Policy After the General Election 

June 25, 2024

With the UK’s general election coming unexpectedly in July, many health and life sciences companies will have seen their original 2024 business strategies thrown into disarray. On the face of it, an election campaign ought to build momentum around important policy areas and with the National Health Service (NHS) regularly topping polls as a key issue for voters—and 6.33 million patients (in England) waiting for treatment—it is no surprise that the major parties have chosen to focus on areas such as NHS workforce and waiting list as their main pledges in health care.  

At a glance, it may seem that little can be done before a new government is formed; however, now is a critical time for planning to ensure seamless collaboration with a new government to maximise the chance of shaping the health care policy landscape.  

What Have the Parties Pledged to Do?

Manifestos form a key part of any general election campaign, providing valuable insight into the thinking of the potential new government, including what their overall mission is, what they see as the main areas in which they can succeed and how they want to be perceived by the voter.   

Labour has opted to maintain its current lead in the polls by producing a cautious manifesto, as it believes it will be in a “fiscal straitjacket” if it comes to power. The party has pledged to cut NHS waiting lists for non-urgent cases to under 18 weeks by adding 40,000 weekly appointments and training more general practitioners (GPs). This includes incentivizing staff to conduct additional out-of-hours appointments and pooling resources across neighbouring hospitals to create shared waiting lists for quicker patient treatment. Additionally, Labour plans to revamp the appointment booking system and introduce a Dentistry Rescue Plan for 700,000 urgent dental appointments annually, including 100,000 for children. Beyond workforce improvements, the party has promised to develop an NHS innovation and adoption strategy in England, focusing on faster procurement of products, reforming incentive structures for quicker approval of new technology and medicines and maximizing the UK’s potential to lead in clinical trials.  

The Conservative Party, on the other hand, has reiterated its existing plans without introducing significant new policies. Most of its initiatives were already outlined during the 2023 Autumn Statement and this year’s Spring Budget, providing a sense of continuity with the current government’s vision for health care. The party’s goals include recruiting 92,000 nurses and 28,000 doctors by the end of the next parliamentary term, offering 2.5 million more dental appointments, increasing NHS spending above inflation, improving productivity, establishing more community diagnostic centres and enhancing the use of pharmacies for closer-to-home care. The Conservative Party also aims to remove bureaucratic hurdles such as the NHS Budget Impact Test and align NHS England’s cost-effectiveness thresholds for new medicine indications with those used by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).  

However, manifestos are not created in silos and are influenced by pressures that exist within the wider political context. Depending on the political situation underpinning a general election, manifestos can range from bold and ambitious or, as in this situation, focus on similar areas and remain reserved. The latter can make it more challenging to distinguish opportunities and barriers when developing strategies to engage with an incoming government.    

Beyond Manifestos

With more than 100 members of parliament (MPs) standing down, and the Labour Party leading in the polls, APCO anticipates a substantial influx of new political stakeholders in Parliament, many of whom will lack previous policymaking experience. While a new Parliament always offers the chance to revitalize old health care debates, many will find it challenging to gain traction. So, what can health care and life sciences companies do to drive forward their own agenda?  

Start early.

Given the inevitable changes, businesses should begin identifying those MPs likely to assume junior positions in the new government and join All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and Select Committees, through which to seek engagement on pertinent issues. Beyond the usual watch list of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPC), this should include former MPs who have remained active in policy as well as those candidates who have been vocal about their mission. This proactive approach will streamline the post-election process of identifying key influencers, providing a targeted list for immediate action once Parliament reconvenes. 

Look beyond manifestos.

Manifestos provide a broad outline of party objectives but do not reflect the individual priorities of ministers who will lead departments. The pre-campaign period offers valuable insights into personal priorities and goals. We encourage clients to make the most of these insights.  

Collaborate with the new government.

The new government will have a clear agenda and opportunities to influence its direction outside of this will be limited, especially within the first 100 days. Rather than pushing issues in different directions, businesses should identify potential areas of alignment with the government’s priorities. Additionally, exploring challenges the government might face and offering expertise can help in achieving shared objectives. 

Take advice.

Although it might be tempting to pause during the general election period, it is an excellent opportunity to plan ahead. Just remember that these plans should remain flexible and adaptable in case the election results differ from current voter projections. As always, APCO remains on hand to advise clients, creating strategies to guide businesses through the changing political landscape.  

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