How do we ensure our NHS can last?

How do we ensure our NHS can last? back to list

26 January 2018

Posted by:
Huw Edwards
Huw Edwards
0207 400 8638

2018 is the 70th anniversary of one of our greatest institutions, the NHS, but will it last another 70 years?

This isn’t an extreme case of the January blues, but a worry, shared by so many, for how this vital cog in our lives can have a sustainable future.

The NHS is in crisis - that is difficult to challenge - and is kept together by the commitment and energy of doctors, nurses, and support staff who day in, day out go beyond the call of duty to meet the needs of patients.

We also know that MPs from across the political spectrum recognise this as one of the great challenges of our time, as was evident with the over 90 MPs calling for “cross party” consensus to address this issue prior to the November Budget, and commentators such Nick Timothy and Lord Saatchi calling for a Royal Commission on the future of the NHS.

Such Commissions or Inquires would rightly look at how the NHS – established in the 20th Century – can become equipped for the societal challenges of the 21st Century, addressing issues around an ageing population and the impact of mental health and loneliness.

Furthermore, our own sector will lead the charge in this debate and champion the case that prevention must have parity of standing in any future health model.  The ukactive Summit last November gave clear directives back to Government and its agencies around how they must show more leadership to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle, which can delay or avoid the use of NHS services. The future success of the NHS will be dependent in some part to how prevention is valued by decision makers and funders of the health sector.

The call from Summit was for Government to recognise physical activity as the “golden thread” that runs through our society, providing solutions to many of the societal challenges we face, and there were notable demands made:

·        To support the ambition for a healthy and active society, communities need access to high quality, accessible, and welcoming facilities that become the heart of a local area. This would especially be the case with the least active who are most vulnerable to developing conditions that require medical support. The Government must give its full support to the transformative investment programme that is on the table which would see the creation of 100s of new “wellness hubs” across the country.

·        With an ageing population, supporting people to maintain levels of independence in later years is crucial to both their own physical and mental wellbeing, but also to minimising their dependence of care. Supporting people – either in residential care or in their own homes – to be as active as they possibly can be must have much more focus from Government.

·        There needs to be a root and branch review of how we support the health of children and young people, especially from low income households. Insufficient energy and resource is currently committed to looking at the health of a child – activity levels, diet, and mental wellbeing – especially outside of school hours.

On that last point, there has been already been notable movement from the Government this year.

In mid-January, the Department of Education announced a new programme of research and pilots to tackle unhealthy school holidays, which cause disproportionate levels of harm to poorer pupils by fuelling physical inactivity, malnutrition and poorer academic attainment. This is a major positive step on the child agenda, but much more must still be done. Indeed, unless we can fully address childhood inactivity levels, we will continue to stock pile the health issues which – in adult life – place growing pressure on the NHS and which can be avoided, such as Type 2 Diabetes.

The latest NHS crisis has exposed the vulnerability of this institution, and the Government must, of course, deal with the immediate challenges to ensure services can be maintained.  But the current model doesn’t work, and that goes much further that funding settlements. Jeremy Hunt calling for a 10-year funding deal is important, but only part of the story. Government needs to invest in the health of the nation way beyond the funding settlement of the NHS, prioritising how we live, work, and play, and making us less dependent on the NHS. 

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