Ambitious NHS plan sparks new questions for an understaffed health service

9th January 2019

In review of the new 10-year NHS plan, Lucy Fletcher, Senior Solicitor at Fletchers Solicitors believes a fresh focus on disease prevention and detection is welcome but question marks remain over chronic understaffing within the health service.

The plan which was launched at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool on Monday has seen a £20.5bn budget increase scheduled across the next decade.

The 136-page document is weighted in detail and presents a huge statement of ambition by Teresa May’s Government.

Lucy said: “The NHS long-term plan is to be welcomed for the change in focus to disease prevention and early detection. 

“Chronic conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes coupled with the aging population will place ever greater burdens on the NHS. 

“Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease and if earlier preventative measures can be put in place this has the prospects of saving millions for the NHS in the future.”

The plan has proposed that 4.5bn will be spent on local GP and considered community care to diagnose diseases earlier and allow patients to receive treatment closer to home.

Lucy continued: “If successfully achieved this ambition could greatly ease some of the burden presently felt by the NHS in terms of bed-blocking and care of elderly people unnecessarily treated in hospital when care at home may be best for them.  

“Similarly if diseases such as cancer and heart disease can be diagnosed and treated earlier at lower overall cost, as it is cheaper to treat these conditions if caught at an earl y stage this could further ease the burden on hospitals in the long-term.”

Alex Matthew-King, the Independent’s Health Correspondent, believes a proposed £20.5bn increase for the NHS by 2023 will not be enough for the health service to repair eight years of austerity.

Responding to the plan in a piece written on Tuesday, King states health system leaders have been equally clear that there are significant questions unanswered about what will be cut to allow the NHS to recover performance and meet its new ambitions.

There are those, however, who believe the proposed NHS budget increase is too little too late, particularly weighted against eight years of austerity under the current Government’s reign.

Amongst those concerned include Dr Chris Moulton, Vice-President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

Dr Moulton has claimed any new structure to alleviate pressures on accident and emergency rooms is commendable but could change the fundamental hours and roles doctors and nurses play.

Concerns have also arisen around expected waiting times and standards for patients such as the four-hour patient to be treated or discharged target at A&E.

Dr Moulton believes that changing the target could mean patients could wait even longer in emergency rooms with complaints that aren’t life-threatening.

That in mind, Lucy also shares the wider concern that another big infrastructural change to an already segmented health service brings new challenges.

She said: “There is potential that this could lead to greater difficulties in the short to medium term for our underfunded hospitals until the benefits of the change in focus to preventative and early diagnosis start to be felt.”

The new NHS proposal has also sparked further debate around wider health recognition and funding.

From the outset it appears that the beneficiaries of the plan could be important areas of health that have been neglected by previous health policies.

Mencap are supporting renewed efforts to close the gap on what they have called “shocking health and care inequalities” for those experiencing learning difficulties and mental health concerns, particularly in young people.

£2.3bn of funding has been set aside to tackle a growing mental health epidemic across the UK and assist with vulnerable patients nearing crisis point.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said the extra budget “will help treat 345,000 more children and young people by 2023-24”.

Lucy concluded:

“The increased focus on mental health is to be welcomed as this area of NHS service has long been underfunded and neglected.   

“The chronic understaffing in both this area and generally within the NHS will need to be addressed urgently to ensure that there are sufficient resources to be able to implement the plans.”

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