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NHS Confederation responds to Labour Party’s mission for health

Responding to the launch of the Labour Party’s mission for health, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:

“The ambitions laid out by Labour as part of its ‘health mission’ are sensible and – if achieved – would be good news for patients and staff alike. GP access, ambulance delays, the elective care backlog, and A&E waits are key issues for patients, and health leaders will welcome the timescales outlined for recovery. Addressing the ‘big killers’ of cancer, heart disease and suicide would be transformational but will take time. Despite everything the NHS is doing, just 58.6% of cancer patients are currently seen within 18 weeks, mental health services have been stretched to the limit, and diagnostic services – like so many others – are understaffed, so the challenge is significant.

“Prevention is key to many of the problems the health service faces, and acknowledgement of this by Labour is welcome, as is the focus on health inequalities and recognition that health isn’t just about the NHS. But at the heart of its plan is the change to the model of where care is delivered, moving it away from being mainly hospital based and into the community. This is something we have long argued for which would undoubtedly be positive for patients. However, we need to understand how Labour would achieve – and fund – such a move. We also need to see details of plans for social care as this is the flip side of the coin and should go hand in hand with efforts to move towards greater community care.

“While it is correct that improvement isn’t all about money, years of underinvestment mean that money is a hugely significant barrier to improvement, and we need to see specifics on what a boost to funding would look like. Investment is clearly needed and, with every £1 spent on health resulting in a £4 return on investment, this would not only be good for the health service but for the wider economy too. One area crying out for funding is the NHS‘s crumbling estate, which is becoming a hinderance to productivity and performance. Excluding primary care where 1 in 5 premises are not fit for purpose, the current repair backlog in England currently stands at £10.2bn, so investment will be necessary and unavoidable if the NHS is to be optimised in the way Labour plans.

“The promise of reform for renewal is sensible and aspirational but leaders will be wary of change for change’s sake, which is the last thing the NHS or patients need right now, and they will urge any future government to simply keep what works and revise what doesn’t. However, what Labour has outlined looks like a constructive vision for health and should open up wider conversations across the political spectrum about what the future of the NHS should look like.

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