The NHS Confederation kicked off Labour Party conference with a deep dive into NHS funding, a major workstream in 2018.
Paul Johnson, co-editor of Securing the future and director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, joined shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth MP, assistant general secretary of UNISON Christina McAnea, NHS Clinical Commissioners chief executive Julie Wood and ABPI chief executive Mike Thompson on the panel.
Paul Johnson gave the first contribution, making the case for a 4 per cent annual increase to NHS spending and more to improve and modernise the service, as set out in the IFS/Health Foundation report.
He emphasised that if the health system needs money, then the social care system needs more. On Labour’s 2017 manifesto, he commented that of all the proposals to increase public spending on a range of public services, there was surprisingly little attention paid to health and care. As for a mechanism of how to raise the necessary money, he advocated a broad-based tax solution, rather than focusing just on wealth or business taxes.
On this point, Christina McAnea agreed and argued that a long-term sustainable plan was necessary; not just for funding, but also for workforce. In her opinion, such a sustainable plan with workable, long-term arrangements for funding and workforce would be the manifestation of a contemporary Nye Bevan moment for a new Labour government. She noted, however, that it would take an incredibly brave politician to come up with a policy that was sufficiently radical.
Julie Wood repeated the call for a Nye Bevan moment, focusing her remarks on the challenges facing the system as the population ages, rates of people living with multiple chronic conditions and the ever-increasing cost of treatments. She also spoke of the need to reduce wasted investment on ineffective treatments and medicines; by reducing unnecessary interventions, the system could release money to reinvest in higher-priority treatments.
Mike Thompson picked up the theme of demographic pressures; he said that it does put a strain on the system, but that it is better than the alternative. He brought up developments and innovation in treatment, and highlighted the need to align innovation more closely with NHS services, to allow patients to benefit from such progress more quickly. He also made the case for transformation, suggesting that without finding money for service transformation, access to innovative treatments will be greatly hindered.
He was followed by Jon Ashworth MP, who presented the Labour Party’s position. He underlined that the pride of Nye Bevan’s achievements is still apparent across the country, and that the founding principles of the NHS that have endured for 70 years now form a key part of our national character. He also said that the funding announcement in the summer came off the back of the Securing the future report, and that this announcement is the new baseline; Labour would match it, but would also pursue tax reform.
He went on to discuss health inequality, which in his words are still unacceptable and would become a key priority for a Labour government, with a particular focus on child health; “place of birth should not determine length of life”.
The shadow health secretary did express some concern about the funding settlement, namely because of what was left out of it. Addiction services are close to his heart because of his family’s experiences, but also left out were public health and prevention, social care and capital and infrastructure investment. He stayed on social care, and said that the government is letting down a lot of people, especially older people.
Questions came from the audience about dementia services, outsourcing and contracting, and were mostly aimed at the shadow health secretary.