The House of Lords 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 long-term future of the NHS is an increasing public concern, with a record 55% of people saying they expected the NHS to deteriorate over the longer term.
The Committee makes it clear that 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.
The Committee concludes that “a culture of short-termism” prevails in the NHS and adult social care and that the Department of Health has been unwilling or unable to look beyond the next few years.
Office for Health and Care Sustainability
The Committee called for the establishment of a new, independent Office for Health and Care Sustainability to look at health and care needs for the next 15-20 years and report to Parliament on the impact of changing demographic needs, the workforce and skills mix in the NHS and the stability of health and social care funding relative to demand.
A political consensus on the future of the health and care system is “not only desirable, it is achievable” according to the Committee and they call on the Government to initiate cross-party talks and a meaningful "national conversation.”
The Committee says that in the past funding has been “too volatile and poorly co-ordinated between health and social care.” This has resulted in poor value for money and resources being allocated in ways which don’t meet patient needs. In the future health funding will need to increase at least in line with growth in GDP, and NHS financial settlements should be agreed for an entire Parliament to enable effective planning.
Pressures in social care now pose a significant threat to the stability of the NHS so the Government needs to embark on a far more ambitious three-year programme to stabilise publicly-funded social care. The Committee asserts that, beyond 2020, a key principle of the long-term settlement for social care should be that funding increases reflect changing need and are, “as a minimum, aligned with the rate of increase for NHS funding.”
The report says that the failure to implement a comprehensive long-term strategy to secure the 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.” The report highlights the problems of over-burdensome regulation, unnecessary bureaucracy, a prolonged period of pay restraint, low levels of morale and retention problems.
The Committee points out that service transformation is at “the heart of securing the long-term future of the health and care systems.” They argue that the model of primary care will need to change, secondary care will need to be reshaped and specialised services consolidated further. A renewed drive to realise integrated health and social care is badly needed.
The Committee makes 34 recommendations for change including:
- 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
- The traditional small business model of GP services is no longer fit for purpose. NHS England should engage with GPs to examine alternative models including direct employment
- 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 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
- 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.
Commenting on the report, Lord Patel, Chairman of the Committee, cross bench peer and eminent obstetrician 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.”