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What's next for the NHS? - Sarah Eglington January 2015

With the next general election set for 7th May 2015, the NHS and overall healthcare system in the UK will once again become a manifesto punch bag. Past performance and policy will be criticised and defended, future promises and plans will be attacked and justified. Hard-hitting healthcare-focussed headlines will be sort on all sides to win or dissuade voters one way or the other. The patient, the doctor, the nurse, the NHS manager, the support workers, the healthcare supplier and all of the millions of people who work for, or with, the NHS will be asked ‘what do you want from healthcare from May 2015 onwards?’ 

The NHS has been through some considerable change since the last election in 2010. Andrew Lansley introduced the Health & Social Care Bill in 2011, which after several rounds of discussions and amendments finally became law in March 2012. The Health & Social Care Act 2012 saw the abolition of SHAs and PCTs, and the introduction of clinical commissioning groups, which took on full operational responsibilities in April 2013.  Some would argue that such a restructure was inappropriately timed given the pressure the NHS was already under to make huge cost and efficiency savings; others would say that it was essential to rebuild the foundations that underpin an NHS that is fit-for-future, fit-for-purpose. What it was principally meant to do was give more control to NHS England in a bid to depoliticise healthcare and to reduce influence from any political party agenda or election manifesto, a concept that will be tested leading up to May 2015.  

On 23rd October 2014, NHS England published its Five Year Forward View for the NHS, presumably in a bid to prove that the NHS has plans that will continue regardless of who is in Government. In the run up to an election those working for the NHS start to wonder what is around the corner for them. NHS suppliers and those who work closely with, and support, the NHS tend to put plans on hold until they have a better idea of what the NHS landscape will look like post-election. In response to this, the five year plan also aims to provide some stability to the workforce and the marketplace, and sends a clear message that the NHS still has a job to do, whatever is happening around it. Patient care and support can’t, and won’t, slow down or stop whilst people make up their minds about ‘who’ leads our country and ‘how’ it will be run.  

Whatever pledges are made regarding the NHS, the facts behind the headlines won’t change. We still have an ageing population, the majority of which have one or more long-term condition that needs to be supported and funded by the NHS. We still have a healthcare system that costs more than there is money available and this will continue for the foreseeable future. We still have an NHS that is crying out for efficiency and innovation to future-proof it and to retain the three principles that have been at its core since its launch in 1948; that it meets the needs of everyone, that it is free at the point of delivery and that it is based on clinical need and not the ability to pay. So think about what you want from healthcare from May 2015 and what you can do to support it leading up to the election. Your NHS needs you more now than ever.

<Taken from the Foreword of Binley's NHS Guide Winter_Spring 2015 edition>

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