This week I spoke in the Queen’s Speech debate in the Commons on health and social care.
Quite rightly, the new Government has committed in its forthcoming programme to bringing forward universal seven day access to GPs, year on year funding increases in the NHS budget up to £ 8 billion extra until 2020, action to reduce the dependence on agency staff and more work on parity between physical and mental health treatment and working to reduce the stigma attached to the latter. The Government is also signed up to the five Year NHS Forward View, prepared by the Chief Executive of NHS England.
I was delighted to praise the efforts of the staff and volunteers at our local Dementia Resource Centre in Millfield.
Despite the fierce battle at the last month’s General Election over the NHS – and Labour’s “weaponising” of the health service with exaggerated language about “24 hours to save the NHS” etc., which incidentally failed to convince the voters – there is nevertheless a surprising degree of consensus between all the main parties on the big and challenging issue facing the NHS, namely demographic and societal changes caused by an increasing ageing population. Both parties know that the key to coping with this trend is better and closer working between local authorities and the NHS on social care and health care and the Government’s £3.8 billion Better Care Fund was established in 2013, to bring this about.
The number of very elderly people is going to double in the next 20 years and we can only focus inevitably limited resources on the most needy if we work to keep more people with chronic long term health conditions and complex care needs (18 million people by 2025) in the community or under the care of their local primary care staff, rather than in hospital. Local providers need to be encouraged to be more innovative – so for instance hospital specialists, social workers and mental health practitioners providing a full range of out-of-hospital care, perhaps using a GP surgery as a base? The key is local flexibility rather than more top down diktat.
Although our health service is an intensely political area, it is a national institution which belongs to no one party. Good health is something that affects us all. If we try to work together to take the party politics out of these big health challenges, we may end up delivering a lot more and better care and support, even in financially straightened times.