Government must provide the means as well as the end goals

Matthew Taylor commenting on the new planning guidance which will be ambitious but challenging for the health service.

27 March 2024

Responding to NHS England’s planning and operational guidance for 2024/25, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

“NHS leaders share the ambitions set out in the planning guidance and will as always do everything they can to improve access to care and deliver more efficient services.

“Our members have worked incredibly hard to drive through improvements over the last 12 months and it is really promising to see things moving in the right direction despite industrial action and rising demand. But leaders recognise there’s a long way to go to get performance back up to where we want it to be and these new ambitions will be very challenging for the health service.

“There is no question that the NHS is in a very difficult position with pressures mounting on local services and budgets. With the triple threat of further industrial action, long waiting lists and uncertainty over staff pay hanging over the NHS, it means 2024/25 is going to be another tough year for local services and patients. But with a fair wind behind it there are opportunities to make further improvements.

“However, it is not enough for the government to just will the end goals, it must also provide the means for the NHS to achieve them. The health service has made progress but the response from government has been to demand even more while failing to address the issues that undermine long-term sustainability.

“To put the health service on a sustainable footing will require an end to the industrial dispute that continues to impede progress on waiting lists and recovering performance, finding the capital funding to deal with crumbling estates and the maintenance backlog, and increasing capacity in social care so that fewer patients are left in hospital when they should be cared for closer to or in their homes. We continue to support the ambition to provide more care in the community and outside of hospitals, which is one of our members’ top priorities.

“But we are concerned that the NHS is entering the new financial year in a worse underlying position, with the risk of further strike action over the next six months likely to add to the challenge. This is being compounded by the financial crisis facing many local councils.

“Planning for the year ahead in these volatile times is particularly challenging, and we therefore welcome how NHS England has engaged with our members in developing the plan. We understand the wider political context we are in this year and the impact it is having on long term decision making. But we need to get back to a position where the planning guidance is released months and not days ahead of the new financial year. This short-term approach risks holding back the NHS and with it, the wider health and care system.”