The NHS Confederation has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set out the critical challenges facing health and social care across England and seeks to understand how he intends to address them.
Health leaders have been clear that plugging the monumental gaps in workforce, fixing the social care crisis and investing in NHS infrastructure are the key challenges which are affecting patient care. They are also clear that transforming mental health and protecting healthcare as the United Kingdom leaves the EU are key priorities in the year ahead.
Throughout the general election campaign, the Conservative Party made the NHS its ‘top priority’, pledging 50,000 more nurses, 40 new hospitals, and £33.9bn of extra funding every year until 2023-24. Also, it promised cross-party talks to find a sustainable solution to the crisis in social care.
But details on its commitments are limited ahead of Thursday’s Queen’s Speech.
In its letter, and accompanying report – Time to deliver: NHS priorities for the new government – the Confederation sets out what the government should prioritise, within its first six months and in the longer term.
Immediate priorities include:
- Setting a realistic budget in the 2020 Spending Review to restore investment in training clinicians, facilitate recruitment and retention and mitigate the effects of the loss of the nursing bursary.
- Reform the tax system or the NHS Pension Scheme to eliminate the impact on clinical staff
- Increased funding for social care, as well as setting up cross-party talks on future reform
- Creating an emergency capital infrastructure fund for those NHS trusts with maintenance backlogs deemed high or significant risk
- Publishing a white paper in response to the independent review of the Mental Health Act and committing to a new mental health bill
- Making sure health is a top priority in the UK’s negotiating mandate following the UK’s departure from the EU
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“As the new government takes office, no one should be in any doubt about the size of the task it faces in supporting the NHS over the next few years.
“In England we have more than 100,000 vacancies, not helped by a pensions debacle that is preventing senior clinical staff from undertaking extra shifts. The NHS needs significant investment in its buildings, equipment and IT, and everywhere it is struggling to meet waiting times. Our members have warned that this could be the worst winter on record.
“The promises made by the Conservatives in the run up to the general election are welcome and it is encouraging that there is strong consensus among all parties on the direction set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. But the challenges are complex and they will take time to address.
“The government says the NHS is its top priority: now it needs to prove it. We look forward to working with them on behalf of our members to do so.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said:
“Delivering the NHS People Plan should be the government’s priority. An urgent solution is also needed for the pensions tapering issue which is leaving frontline services understaffed and busier than ever.
“The promise of a points-based immigration system opens up new opportunities to recruit NHS staff from overseas but the government must ensure the criteria avoid being too prescriptive or arbitrary. This is vital if we are looking to recruit talent from abroad to tackle the workforce crisis in social care.”
Julie Wood, chief executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said:
“Our members, the clinical commissioners who collectively oversee £79.9 billion of NHS money, also remain concerned about the impact of workforce pressures and a lack of a plan on social care. The NHS Long Term Plan will not achieve the best outcomes for patients at a local level where it really matters without these big issues being tackled once and for all and now is the time for government to seize the opportunity to do so.“
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said:
“It is vital that one of the first actions the new government takes is to commit to implementing the recommendations of Sir Simon Wessely’s review of the Mental Health Act. This will give people greater choice over the care they receive and reduce the inequalities inherent in the current Act.
“Following this, we expect the government to establish the right environment to implement the ambitions of the Long Term Plan, including a funding settlement for working age adult social care and significant capital funding, both of which are needed to relieve the intense pressures currently felt by the mental health and learning disabilities sectors.”