Welcome to The Patients Association Weekly News
Welcome to our weekly news conference special!
Our policy team have had their ears to the ground listening out to key health and social care issues raised at the three main political conferences. Here's our pick of the key ideas and plans raised at the 2016 conferences.
Conservative Party Conference
Jeremy Hunt, the longest serving health secretary, this week outlined his vision for the future of the NHS at the Conservative party conference. Much of his speech was dedicated to dealing with NHS staff shortages; he announced plans for the NHS to become “self-sufficient’ and to no longer have to rely on foreign doctors within the next 10 years by announcing plans to train up to 1,500 doctors a year in England.
Jeremy Hunt said “We need to prepare the NHS for the future – which means doing something we have never done properly before: training enough doctors. Currently, a quarter of our doctors come from overseas. They do a fantastic job and we have been clear that we want EU nationals who are already here to be able to stay post-Brexit.” He plans on ending the 6,000 a year cap on medical students. The British Medical Association welcomed what they believed to be a belated recognition that the NHS is under-doctored but warned that the health service would not benefit from the extra medics for another decade. Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association, said the extra training places fell “far short of what is needed”.
Jeremy Hunt’s speech also focused on the progress of cancer diagnosis, he said that compared to 2010 the NHS is doing more than 16,000 more diagnostic test. He outlined a new cancer plan which will introduce a maximum of 4 weeks wait from GP referral to diagnosis and bringing in Ofsted-style ratings for Clinical Commissioning Groups. Jeremy Hunt spoke at length about mental health, calling for more to be done to improve mental health services. He spoke about a new plan to transform children’s services, increase support for mothers with post-natal depression and help for those looking for work. Jeremy Hunt also spoke about the need for mental health to be given the same priority as physical health needs.
This was all following Jeremy Hunt’s win at the High Court with junior doctors in England over a new contract. The group Justice for Health mounted a legal bid arguing the contract was "unsafe and unsustainable" and Mr Hunt did not have the power to impose it. The Court ruled the Health Secretary had acted within his powers, trusts according to Justice Green have the freedom as employers to decide whether they did force the contract on doctors. Bolstered by this decision Jeremy Hunt used his speech to urge the BMA to “call off the strikes for good and start working with us to deliver safer care, 7 days a week”.
Former Shadow Health Secretary, Diane Abbott responded to Jeremy Hunt’s speech by saying “The idea that we can be self-sufficient in medical staff is nonsense. The True picture is that the NHS has never been in a more perilous state and the Tories are cutting the health budget by £22bn”.
On the 28th of September the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Diane Abbott MP, spoke at the Annual Labour Party Conference in Liverpool about the state of the NHS. She started off by discussing the issue of the junior doctor contracts, suggesting that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, had vilified the BMA and junior doctors. Diane Abbott argued that Jeremy Hunt was attempting to achieve a 7 day service by stretching the current workforce thinner. The shadow health secretary stated that there was no doubt that the Labour Party stood with junior doctors, and that she hoped Jeremy Hunt would get back around the table to discuss negotiations.
Diane Abbot went on to discuss the issue of NHS bursaries for student nurses, suggesting that many student nurses would not be able to afford to study and would be afraid of debt. She made it abundantly clear that if Labour were to regain power, they would restore the bursary. This was all part of a broader theme about the treatment of NHS staff and staff morale. The shadow health secretary argued that the Conservatives had ill repaid the dedication of NHS workers. Furthermore, she stressed that immigrant workers were vital to public services.
With regard to Brexit, Diane Abbott stated that the Labour Party would be holding the government to account for the Brexit campaign’s claims about £350 million going into the NHS. Once again, it was stressed that EU workers played a vital part in the provision of health and social care, and that an end to freedom of movement could have disastrous consequences. Diane Abbot, therefore, stated that she wanted assurance from the government about EU workers currently residing in the UK.
Finally, Diane Abbot spoke passionately about an improvement to mental health services under the NHS. She emphasised the need for mental health to be given equal priority to physical health, and stated that delays in access to mental health treatments were unacceptable. The Shadow Health Secretary, therefore, stated that under a Labour government greater funding would be put into mental health.
LABOUR HAVE APPOINTED A NEW SHADOW SECRETARY OF HEALTH
Following the Labour leadership election in which Jeremy Corbyn retained his leadership of the party with an increased vote share of 61.8%, The Labour Leader reshuffled his shadow cabinet. This resulted in a move for Diane Abbott MP from Shadow Health Secretary to Shadow Home Secretary. Diane Abbott was appointed Shadow Health Secretary in June after Hedi Alexander MP resigned following the EU referendum and concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Jonathan Ashworth MP is now the Labour party’s Shadow Health Secretary. Jonathan Ashworth, a former aide of Gordon Brown, is the Member of Parliament for Leicester South. Following his appointment, he tweeted “The NHS was and still is Labour's greatest achievement. On the brink of crisis under the Tories & going backwards. We'll be campaigning hard”.
Liberal Democrat Conference
On September 17th former health minister, Norman Lamb MP, spoke about the future of the NHS at the Liberal Democrat party conference. Norman Lamb expressed deep concern regarding the financial situation of the NHS. He highlighted the impact of the financial strain on various areas of health and social care. These included the long waiting times for mental health services, the delays in hospital discharges due to a lack of care packages in place for when patients leave, and cancelled operations due to a lack of beds. He also stressed that the root cause of the junior doctor difficulties was the government’s determination to stretch the already strained resources too far.
The focus of Norman Lamb’s speech was on creating a ‘New Beveridge Group’ of independent health experts to consider the case for a dedicated NHS and care tax. Having discussed the financial strain that the NHS is under, and the future potential of the NHS with developing technology, he went on to discuss how the NHS is funded. Normal Lamb stressed that paying for the NHS out of the general tax pot results in a distortion of other priorities. His belief is that if people could see, through a separate NHS and care tax, that their money was going directly to the NHS and social care, they might be prepared to pay a bit more if it was clear that this was needed. He, therefore, announced in his speech that the Liberal Democrats would be establishing an independent expert panel to advise the party on the case for such a tax. In fact, in his speech Norman Lamb identified the Chief Executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphey, as one of the experts involved in this new panel. The Patients Association is excited to be involved with this panel, and to follow the developments of the potential NHS and Care Tax.
The Patients Association’s motto is ‘Listening to Patients, Speaking up for Change’. This motto is the basis on which we build all our campaigns. Via our Helpline, we capture stories about Healthcare from over thousands of patients, family members and carers every year. We use this knowledge to campaign for real improvements to health and social care services across the UK.