Labour believes in a strong and secure NHS, where healthcare is based on need, not the ability to pay. We need to make sure we have a health and social care service that is fit for purpose and that can meet the challenges of today. The Labour Party believes in a fully integrated health and social care system which looks after the needs of our ageing population, treats people with dignity and ensures that mental and physical health are treated equally.
The scale of the challenge currently facing our NHS and social care system is huge. Our NHS is going through its biggest financial squeeze in history and the system is struggling to cope. Chronic underfunding of health and social care services, coupled with workforce shortages, is causing increasing stress and anxiety for both staff and the patients that they work so hard to care for.
The Conservative Government has failed to give our health and social care services the resources they need to ensure that patients receive the care they deserve. An increasing number of people are waiting too long for operations, key performance targets, such as the four-hour A&E waiting time target and the 62-day cancer treatment target, are being missed month after month. Older and vulnerable people are being left stranded on hospital wards because there is nowhere safe for them to go. Our social care system is under severe pressure, with increasing numbers of people getting little or no assistance to help them deal with basic daily tasks such as washing and dressing.
Underfunding is also having a negative impact on the ability of local authorities to support preventative public health initiatives such as sexual health programmes, smoking cessation services and measures to reduce obesity. There are real concerns that reductions to funding for prevention are short-sighted and will likely contribute to an increased burden on the health system in the future.
The NHS is Labour’s proudest achievement. We have a duty to protect both patients and staff, and ensure that people can access the care they need, when they need it, through a publicly provided service.
Last year the Health and Care Policy Commission looked specifically at the issue of mental health and explored issues surrounding early intervention and prevention in mental health, as well as what steps need to be taken to achieve true equality between physical and mental health.
This year the National Policy Forum (NPF) identified further work on funding, social care and public health.
As a result of Conservative policies on health and social care, our system is underfunded and overstretched. The Conservative Party has failed to grasp the size of the challenge facing health and social care, and patients are being let down as a result. NHS spending per person will be cut next year and experts have suggested that by 2020 there will be a gap in social care funding of at least £2.6 billion. In addition to this, it is expected that funding for public health will fall by at least £600 million in real terms by 2020/21 and figures also show that mental health funding fell by £600 million over the course of the last Parliament. NHS trusts finished 2015/16 £2.45 billion in deficit, the highest on record.
The period between 2009/10 and 2014/15 saw the lowest five year growth in public spending on health in the UK since the 1950s. Under the last Labour Government, the average annual growth rate was 5.9 per cent, compared to 1.1 per cent under the Coalition Government (2010-2015).
In addition to existing funding pressures across the board, local health communities are being asked to find savings totalling £22 billion, as set out in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View. Finding savings of this level, while at the same time developing and implementing Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), is expected to put huge pressure on local hospital services, and is likely to have a knock-on effect on community and primary care. There are real fears that STPs will lead to the downgrading or closure of some local services (e.g. A&E departments and maternity units).
The demographic of our country is changing. Our population is ageing rapidly, and the number of people living with multiple complex and long term conditions has increased. As a consequence, health and social care services are under immense pressure, sometimes struggling to meet the needs of patients. There has been a 56 per cent increase in the number of days lost to delayed transfers of care since 2011; 1.8 million people waited longer than four hours in A&E departments last year; GPs are struggling to cope with an increasing workload and the 62 day cancer target has not been hit for three years.
Health needs are constantly evolving and demand on the NHS is growing as a result. Patient demand for access to new drugs and treatments is increasing and Clinical Commissioning Groups in England are being forced to make difficult decisions about what treatments and drugs they can offer with reduced budgets.
The health and care system is under enormous financial pressure. There are calls from across the political spectrum, and from health and care experts, to boost funding for services in the immediate term by providing an urgent injection of funding to shore up services under significant strain. However, a more long-term, sustainable solution must be considered if we are to secure the future of our health and social care services.
NHS England spent over £5 billion on ill health linked to being overweight or obese in 2014/15, and it is estimated that £14 billion a year is spent on treating diabetes. According to a recent report from the Health Foundation, the Department of Health estimates that 70 per cent of the total health and social care spend in England is for the treatment and care of people with long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Cuts to the public health budget in England are putting prevention of ill health at risk – we have already seen in-year cuts to public health budgets of £200 million, and by the end of this Parliament it is expected that funding for public health will fall by around £600 million. Cuts of this scale could put at risk sexual health services, cancer screening, smoking cessation and measures to reduce obesity. Furthermore, there are concerns that cuts in the number of Sure Start centres will negatively impact people who benefit from the use of these services.
Our public health workforce is also under pressure, faced with cutbacks from local authority budgets. Shortages of both health visitors and school nurses are putting the existing public health workforce under unsustainable pressure. There are concerns that staff are finding it increasingly difficult to provide much needed advice to children and young people, at a crucial point in their lives, because they are so overstretched. Preventing ill health at an early age is vital for the future health and wellbeing of children and young people. A third of children aged between two and 15 are either overweight or obese, and without firm action to combat childhood obesity, there are real fears that its prevalence will continue to increase. The Government’s much delayed and watered down Childhood Obesity Plan published last summer was a missed opportunity to deal with this issue head on.
We need to be aware of the impact issues such as housing, employment and education can have on people’s health and wellbeing. As a society it is crucial that we identify ways in which to promote preventative measures, in order to improve the quality of people’s lives and to reduce the burden of ill health on our health and social care services. Developing a range of policies to address health inequalities in our society is vital if we are to improve the health of people of all ages, from all parts of the country.