NHS' 5 year plan- a warning to ministers

NHS Hospital

The NHS' landmark plan sends a clear message to the government- 'implement our plans or face the consequences in May's general election'

It’s been long accepted that the NHS is in trouble. Under-funding, lack of staff, over-crowded wards and dwindling resources have left the public despairing at our once enviable health care system. Today see’s the arrival of the ‘NHS Five Year Forward Review’- the 5 year plan to ‘save’ the NHS. The brainchild of six national bodies, including NHS England themselves, it sets out realistically what the NHS will be able to do over the period and exactly how much money it requires to do this. But don’t be fooled by the NHS’ claim it is a mere ‘blueprint’- with the elections in May and the NHS being voters’ largest priority this is a clear message to the government – implement our plans or face the consequences.

Simon Stevens the new boss of NHS England introduced the plans with the message ‘The NHS is at a crossroads.’ He says the plan will set out the ‘choices- and consequences- that we will face over the next five years’ but he insists it is ‘perfectly possible’ to improve and sustain the NHS but to do so needs ‘the support of future governments’. This is undoubtedly a call to government to sit up and listen, the NHS is turning the tables, setting out what it sees as a strategic and implementable plan but putting the ball in government’s court. It can provide the service, if only they can provide the cash.

The action outlined is on the basis of four main concerns: tackling the problems of an ageing population; tackling the root causes of ill health; developing and delivering new models of care and committing to giving patients control of their own care. However whilst the 50 page document sets out the plans of how these will be tackled the underlying tone is the cry for resources to do so.

It predicts that delivering these transformational changes could close the £30 billion gap by 2020. Therefore what the NHS is asking for is an investment, the money needed to implement the changes will, in the long run, try and solve the chronic funding issues and shortfalls the NHS faces year upon year. The current budget for the NHS is £100bn a year but the report stressed they would need an extra £8 billion at the end of the period to keep up the high quality levels of care.

The plans outline how GP practices would join forces into larger organisations offering a wider range of services, many of which would traditionally be carried out in hospitals. There is a tangible focus on reducing waste and increasing efficiency- making sure the right people get the right care and that hospital pressure is reduced by offering more off-site care. The focus and plan is there, but the NHS need the funding and support of the government to implement these vital changes.

The plan could not have come at a more suitable time; with political pressure mounting on politicians to deal with the crisis the NHS faces and will continue to face, minister’s response to the plans will undoubtedly be highly scrutinised. With the elections in May those seen to turn their back on the NHS when they have come at perhaps their most urgent time of need will inevitably be sorely criticised. Ministers will require a pretty good alternative to justify ignoring the national bodies’ recommendations. Only time will tell how much of these plans will be adopted but it is almost certain that minister’s will spend today carefully studying the five year forward review and perhaps making changes to those promises and plans they made themselves but a few weeks ago.