News / Think tanks call for an end to NHS short-termism

05 July 2023 Martyn Bryson

The letter from the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation is addressed to prime minister Rishi Sunak and to the leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties – Keir Starmer and Ed Davey. The think tanks called on the three leaders to ‘make the next election a decisive break point’ from previous quick fix approaches.jennifer dixon hfma conf 19 L

The letter called for a sustained, cross-party commitment to the new NHS long term workforce plan and the development of plans for similarly sweeping reforms in other key areas.

While recovering services and reducing waiting times is vital, improvements ‘without a long-term plan to address the underlying causes of the current crisis is a strategy doomed to failure,’ the letter said. It added that the ‘path back to a stronger health service is through long-term policies’.

The think tanks three chief executives – Richard Murray (King’s Fund), Nigel Edwards (Nuffield Trust) and Jennifer Dixon (pictured, Health Foundation) – set out four key areas where long-term improvement would have the most impact:

  • building on and funding the NHS long term workforce plan
  • investing in capital spending for the NHS
  • social care reform
  • improvements to wider social and economic programmes

The organisations praised the workforce plan as a positive, long-term move in the right direction, but said it needed a sustained commitment to its goals across parties if it is to succeed. They also called for increased capital spending in the NHS, which is well below that of health systems in similar countries. Fewer hospital beds, outdated equipment, dilapidated buildings and failing IT meant the NHS had insufficient resources to do its job.

Reform is also needed in areas beyond the NHS that the service depends on to function properly, with the letter stating that adult social care ‘has been shamefully neglected by successive governments.’ A long period of underfunding has left social care services with severe staff shortages and struggling to meet high demand. This neglect has increased pressure on the NHS and needs broad, forward-looking reform similar to the NHS long term workforce plan.

The government must also address the health of the population with people currently ‘falling between the cracks of public services’, leaving the NHS to pick up the pieces.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, backed the think tanks’ analysis that long-standing issues cannot be solved with quick, short-term fixes. He called for the ‘important and appreciated’ workforce plan to be built upon. But he said that problems with capital funding and social care had been ‘equally long in the making and will need more than a sticking plaster approach to fix them’.

‘Serious action is required on a par with the NHS workforce plan, otherwise we may fail to tackle the rest of the NHS’s co-morbidities, with patient care left to pay the price,’ he added.