Sustainability of NHS and social care under threat

April 6, 2017

The Select Committee on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS has slammed the 'short-sightedness' of successive governments for failing to plan effectively for the long-term future of the health service and adult social care.

The Select Committee on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS was set up to investigate the sustainability of the NHS over the next 15-20 years in an attempt to get beyond debates about current funding shortages and look for strategic solutions to meet the challenges in health and adult social care in the long-term. Having taken evidence from more than 100 witnesses, the Committee has now published its final report.

Recommendations included in the report:

  • A tax-funded, free-at-the-point-of-use NHS is the most efficient way of delivering health care and should remain in place now and in the future. For that principle to remain, however, many aspects of the way the NHS delivers healthcare will have to change.
  • A political consensus on the future of the health and care system is not only desirable, it is achievable and the Government should initiate cross-party talks and a meaningful national conversation.
  • The failure to implement a comprehensive long-term strategy to secure appropriately skilled, well-trained and committed workforce that the health and care system will need is the biggest internal threat to the sustainability of the NHS.
  • There is an indisputable link between a prolonged period of pay restraint, over-burdensome regulation and unnecessary bureaucracy and low levels of morale and workforce retention. The Government should commission an independent review to examine the impact of pay on morale and retention of health and care staff.
  • The health and social care systems are interdependent but poorly-coordinated. To allow money and resources to be used more effectively the budgetary responsibility for adult social care at a national level should be transferred to a new Department of Health and Care.
  • Policy is now increasingly focused on integrated, placed-based care and so NHS England and NHS improvement should be merged to create a new body with simplified regulatory functions and strong local government representation.
  • There is a worrying lack of a credible strategy to encourage uptake of technology and innovation in the NHS. The Government should do more to incentivise the take-up of new approaches and make clear that there will be funding and service delivery consequences for those who repeatedly fail to engage.
  • Cuts to funding for the public health budget are short-sighted and counter-productive. National and local public health budgets should be ring-fenced for at least the next ten years. We also need a new nationwide campaign to highlight the dangers of obesity.
  • The Government should be clear with the public that access to the NHS involves patient responsibilities as well as patient rights. The NHS Constitution should be redrafted to emphasise this.

Lord Patel, Crossbench Peer said, 'The Department of Health at both the political and official level is failing to think beyond the next few years. There is a shocking lack of long-term strategic planning in the NHS. This short-sightedness stems from the political importance of the NHS and the temptation for politicians to reach for short-term fixes not long-term solutions.

'To solve this, we need a new body that is independent of government and is able to identify clearly the healthcare needs of a changing and ageing population and the staffing and funding the NHS will require to meet those needs. This new Office for Health and Care Sustainability should be a trusted, independent voice as the Office for Budget Responsibility has become on economic forecasting and on public finance matters. It will need to look ahead and plan for 15-20 years into the future.

'We also need to recognise the NHS will need more money. NHS spending will need to rise at least as fast as GDP for 10 years after 2020. One area where more spending will be required is on pay for lower paid staff. We are in an increasingly competitive international market for health professionals and a decade of pay constraint in the NHS has damaged morale and made it difficult to train and recruit the staff we need.

'We have heard much about the need to integrate health and social care and we think the best way to do that is make the Department of Health responsible for both health and adult social care budgets. We also think it is time to look at the way care is delivered. This may well involve changing the model where GPs are self-employed small businesses. Delivering health care fit for the 21st century requires improvement in primary care to relieve pressure on hospitals. That change should be delivered by GPs.'


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