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NHS leaders call for radical change

As the Conservative leadership race comes to a close, NHS leaders have called for concrete proposals from both candidates to address the immense issues facing the health service.

Senior NHS figures fear the Conservative leadership contest is not addressing wider health service needs – given record-breaking backlogs and slipping of targets in key treatment areas such as Oncology.

NHS leaders are warning that both candidates vying for the job of future Prime Minister have so far failed to show a clear appreciation of the pressures facing the health service or propose any meaningful long-term solutions.

The NHS Confederation – on behalf of NHS leaders – has written letters to both candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, laying out deep concerns about the significant challenges facing both the NHS and social care, while also outlining what is needed from the Government and next Prime Minister to address these issues.

These leaders are clear there needs to be a ‘realism reset’ on the NHS – a dose of political honesty and levelling with the public about what the NHS is facing and what it needs to address it. They warn that instead, the Government must now tackle three key issues affecting the NHS head on.

Scale of the problem

The most pressing of these is the need for a fully costed and funded workforce plan to deal with the 105,000 vacancies in the NHS and 165,000 vacancies in social care. There is also need for additional capital investment to upgrade much of the crumbling estate, buildings and infrastructure, alongside a rescue package for social care which NHS leaders say remains far from ‘fixed’, as the Government claim, which is leading to significant extra demand on the health service.

The culmination of these challenges mean the NHS is currently facing ‘winter in summer’ and health service leaders are sounding the alarm that they are approaching the coming months with extreme worry. Without action from the Government, they caution that patient safety will continue to be put at risk.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, explained: “As we approach the final weeks of the Conservative Party leadership race and wait to find out who our next Prime Minister will be, healthcare leaders are approaching winter with a real sense of foreboding.”

“They are urging both the remaining candidates to inject their public debate with a sense of urgency and show a real understanding about the huge pressures the NHS and social care are under. We need both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss to demonstrate a heavy dose of realism about the state of the NHS and the promise of an open, frank and honest conversation about what this means.

“To truly level with the public they must acknowledge that this means crumbling buildings and ill-equipped outdated estate, 105,000 NHS staff and 165,000 social care vacancies at the last count, and a social care system in desperate need of repair and very far from being fixed as the current Prime Minister would have us believe,” he added.

The candidates response

In a campaign speech in Grantham, the hometown of former Tory PM Margaret Thatcher, Mr Sunak said tackling the NHS backlog was the biggest public service emergency.

“We need a fundamentally different approach,” he said. “We will take the best of our Covid response and apply those lessons to clearing the massive backlog in the NHS.”

Without a radically different approach, the NHS will come under unsustainable pressure and break, he said.

As part of a number of measures, he is promising to offer more diagnostic services – such as MRI and CT scans – in repurposed empty High Street shops.

Ms Truss agrees on the urgent need to deal with care backlogs, promising to install a “strong” health secretary to solve the issue.

She has also said she is “completely committed” to current Government promises for NHS spending, despite her plans for tax cuts.

Final thought

The NHS is in trouble, with the warning signs of a broken system since the Conservative party took office in 2010. NHS staffing and recruitment, the backlogs and the upcoming winter paints a very bleak picture for the health service, and for the millions of patients waiting to receive treatment and care. It is clear radical change is needed, and the universal healthcare service has clearly struggled with the level of funding it receives.

Given the low-tax agenda from the Conservative leadership race, it seems increased investment in real-terms is not on the table. However, the incoming Prime Minister will be judged on finding alternative solutions to improving treatment and care. Curia’s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission is seeking to find realistic, implementable solutions to reduce health inequalities and improve outcomes. To see our recent inquiry session on integration, see below:

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