Labour has emerged from its conference united and strong, following a well received speech from Ed Miliband outlining his vision for Britain. One of the boldest policies to come from Labour's conference was Andy Burnham's vision of an integrated healthcare system, the policy of whole person care.
In January 2012, as chair of the Young Fabian health network, I took part in a policy series looking at how a future Labour government could shape health policy. At the peak of the opposition to the coalition's NHS health bill, we decided to not only examine the here and now but look beyond 2015, at the post-coalition landscape. The social care series culminated with a policy round table where I first heard Andy Burnham lay out his vision of a healthcare system centred on the idea of whole person care.
The sociologist, Mildred Blaxter once wrote that 'health can be defined negatively as the absence of illness, functionally, as the ability to cope with everyday activities, or positively as fitness and well being'. Whole person care is the notion that our health is not solely dependent by our physical well being but is also determined by the status of our mental and social health.
Therefore in order for the NHS to cope with the increasing burden of disease as the population ages, there must be a structural shift within the NHS where physical, social and mental provision of care is integrated at a primary and secondary level. This means creating a healthcare system where every person in Britain has the access to good quality care as we age no matter income or tax bracket.
This is a policy which channels elements of the post-1945 Labour government and continues Labour's rich history of social reform, offering a real alternative to the Conservatives, while maintain the centre ground. Labour has not yet explained how this policy will be funded and in an age of austerity this may prove to be a roadblock.
The Young Fabian Health Network launched a policy pamphlet titled 'Irreversible? Health and social care policy in a post-coalition landscape' a collection of six essays embracing the notion of whole person care, as well as looking at the challenges a future Labour health secretary will face. One of the key suggestions from the publication is that Labour must put this policy at the centre of its 2015 election manifesto.
With less than 18 months left to a general election, over the coming months Labour needs to highlight its vision for Britain, with a narrative that speaks to the heart of the electorate. Labours conference has shown the public that Ed Miliband is willing to be bold, and by putting forward the policy of whole person care, Labour is ready to be a party that once again positively changes the social fabric of our society.