NHS 10-year plan: priorities and significance
Published earlier this week, a much anticipated 10-year plan for NHS England lays out the long-term priorities based on an extra £20 billion of funding being received.
The NHS has delivered a 10-year plan thriving to be an ‘anchor institution’ fit for the 21st century. Jonathan Baker, the head of our medical negligence sector, considers some of the plan’s main action points and what they could mean for the future of national healthcare.
Early detection and prevention
At the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the prevention of ‘major health problems’, including heart disease, diabetes and mental health. The plan puts forward hopeful ambitions to prevent ‘150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases’ as well as saving ’55,000 more lives’ from cancer, through early detection and diagnosis.
Since many of the claims the medical negligence team manage arise from delays in care, this is a plan Jonathan considers to be very positive, commenting:
“Clients often contact us concerned that there was a delay in doing something – such as a delay in detecting a developing condition or a delay in being referred. As such, developing the focus on avoiding something happening in the first place could potentially help a lot of people. If it can’t be avoided, picking it up sooner will inevitably have its benefits too.”
The increased ‘contribution to tackling some of the most significant causes of ill health’ includes further encouragement of a healthy lifestyle, to prevent smoking, alcohol and diet-related problems. “There is significance in promoting a healthy lifestyle” says Jonathan. “A fresh start to health awareness could help to relieve the financial burden on the NHS that lifestyle-related problems bring.”
The aim to diagnose and treat more health problems before they develop is complemented by a focus on integrated primary care; a proposal which involves ‘creating genuinely integrated teams of GPs, community health and social care staff’ to accelerate support provided and concentrate on an effective alternative to hospitalisation.
Jonathan believes this is another ambitious idea and a significant step in the right direction, arguing that:
“Disjointed care can often lead to a breakdown in communication, whether that’s between two hospitals or regarding patient referral. This not only provokes frustration but can result in people getting lost in the system, and problems potentially worsening or even becoming permanent.”
The ‘out of hospital’ care mentioned, for example urgent treatment centres, is considered as a model for the future to relieve pressure on the current emergency care system, whilst still ensuring the most serious emergencies receive the best possible care. But as well as this, the NHS prepares its controversial decision to drop 4-hour waiting time targets for A&E departments.
Providing appropriate care in the 21st century raises questions about new means of care. Technology is an area which, if embraced, “will have many benefits, since hospitals are still relying on fax machines, page machines and paper records” says Jonathan. ‘More convenient’ access to health information and services has been proposed to patients and staff alike, including better access to digital tools and patient records.
Smartphone appointments signify a ‘digital first’ on a major scale, which according to Jonathan “could be really helpful in the right circumstances”.
“Developing this into the NHS could mean that there is less frustration for patients over trying to get an appointment, waiting hours and losing half a day from work in the process, but also benefit the NHS in reducing the cost of missed appointments.”
The NHS aim for 80% of appointments to be digital, with video consultations a possibility in cases when it is necessary to see someone physically. This has been said to free up time on minor and missed appointments to focus on other areas of importance such as treatment.
However Jonathan considers potential limitations to a digitised healthcare system which includes “those not familiar with the technology, those who do not have access to the technology, or those patients whose health issues may require an in-person consultation.”
Training and support
As well as concerns over financially stretching the budget, Jonathan addresses the strain put on NHS staff, which is also mentioned in the plan, due to the ‘number of vacancies across many roles’. It is unknown at this stage whether this is a major implication to the ambitious document.
The long term plan sets out a number of specific workforce actions, though the funding available for additional investment in the form of training, education and continuing professional development is yet to be announced. However a new medical school at the University of Lincoln, which will deliver first-class medical training to around 400 undergraduate students, indicates a good start.