Back in October 2014, NHS England’s Chief Executive Simon Stevens announced a Five Year Forward View, looking ahead to the future of the NHS. As the run-up to campaigns for the 2015 General Election gather pace, healthcare is fast emerging as the pivotal issue he predicted.
“We need to get serious on three fronts: we need to take our own health seriously, change the way services are provided, and yes, ask the next government to support us financially to carry on delivering high quality services,” he suggested.
This three-pronged approach takes into account the necessity of government funding and support (specifically, NHS managers have anticipated an £8 billion a year funding gap by 2020), but also gives the same emphasis to the need to improve public health by tackling root causes and, crucially, to improving the actual infrastructure of NHS services.
So although we still rely on government policy for healthcare, there’s a shifting outlook: first of all, the NHS is calling for us to take more responsibility for our own wellbeing and to take pre-emptive measures against ill-health – for example, to take “hard-hitting” action against the big burdens of conditions related to smoking and obesity.
Secondly, it is setting out a clear sense of direction for the way services need to change, and recognising that action is needed to develop and deliver new models of care, local flexibility and more investment in workforce, technology and innovation. As part of its efforts to become digitally enabled and empowered, current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has challenged the NHS to become paperless by 2018.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s National Clinical Director, told stakeholders: “We need to find new ways of doing things or quality will suffer.” Trustmarque’s NHS Business Performance Management solutions are are one such way that increased efficiency can be ensured. Business intelligence and the forensic use of data can be key to delivering better services.
There is also a continuing sense of optimism for a future of more local and holistic care. The NHS must change to meet the needs of a population that lives longer, and continue to decentralise and break down the boundaries between family doctors and hospitals, between physical and mental health and between health and social care.
Some surprising figures from a recent report by Lord Ashcroft reveal that 42% believe the government should consider implementing an insurance system, while 50% suggest the government should consider charging for some treatments – suggesting that a large part of the population feels that a health service entirely funded by tax is not sustainable or realistic in the face of an ageing population.
There is a clear willingness amongst the electorate to open up debate and explore new avenues and new solutions to transform the NHS. The jury is still out as to which party is best equipped to keep the NHS afloat, to be proactive about preventative care, and to bolster the transformation of services – amidst rumoured ‘weaponisation’ of the issue by politicians.