NHS Confederation responds to the Prime Minister's conference speech

Matthew Taylor comments on the Prime Minister's speech at the Conservative Party conference

4 October 2023

Responding to the Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:

“The Prime Minister is right that if the next government is to set the NHS up for its next 75 years, a razor-sharp focus on the prevention of the greatest causes of illness and premature death are needed. Health leaders will welcome the intention to ban younger generations from taking up smoking and to restrict the availability of vaping but it should not stop there.

"The reality is this government has presided over cuts to public health spending and these have to be reversed if we are to achieve the Prime Minister’s ambition.

“Obesity is fast overtaking smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in England, but public health grants have been cut by 26% on a real-terms per person basis since 2015/16. This has harmed the ability of local authorities to adequately support smoking cessation, drug and alcohol, and sexual health services across the country. Leaders are clear these levels of funding must be restored locally and that the next government must take the bull by the horns with more decisive national interventions that will help people to live healthier lives.

“Also, our members frequently tell us that a vital way to reduce demand for hospital beds is to invest more in health and care services in the community, including primary care. Recent analysis we commissioned showed that for every £100 spent in the NHS services in the community, there is over a 31% return on investment in savings across acute hospitals due to reduced admissions

“Equally, leaders continue to share their concerns about the lack of adequate of social care. This sector continues to trail far behind the attention of government at a time when there are over 150,000 vacancies and the Home Office is considering restricting the ability of certain health and care workers arriving from overseas from bringing their dependents with them which would drastically affect recruitment efforts. With an aging population, growing numbers of people are living with unmet needs – they will suffer as a result of the government’s failure to tackle this.

“Finally, while the Prime Minister is right to note that this government has delivered the NHS its first long term workforce plan, this acknowledgment comes as thousands of doctors and radiographers continue to strike across the country due to concerns about their pay and working conditions. Rather than attribute blame to the rising waiting lists to these professionals, it is incumbent on his government and the BMA to resume talks and bring an end to further industrial action before winter hits the NHS. There was nothing in today’s speech to suggest that a solution is on the horizon and that will be a major concern for patients. The strikes continue to result in hundreds of thousands of cancelled appointments and a huge financial bill for the NHS – this can’t go on much longer otherwise the PM’s own pledge to cut waiting lists will be lost.”