Weekly political news round up – 28th April 2017

Overview

This week, research by the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation has showed that emergency admissions for young people under 25 have increased by 14%, rising from 99,000 to over 110,000 in the decade preceding 2016/17. The Trust said that several of the reasons for these admissions, including asthma, epilepsy and acute tonsillitis, could have been avoided if better care had been given outside of hospital, attributing the increase to GP workforce problems.

General election: sector reactions & manifesto speculation

Unite prepares public health election checklist

The health care union Unite has announced it will prepare an election checklist in order to protect public health budgets from further council cuts. As one of the main drivers for the check list, Unite said it is “seriously concerned” about a consistent fall in staff numbers since a peak in 2015, due to cuts to local authorities’ public health budgets. According to Unite’s workforce figures, the number of health visitors had decreased by nearly 9% since the transfer of commissioning for public health to local authorities in 2015. Additionally, NHS Digital figures show there were 2,561 whole time equivalent (WTE) health visitors in the school nurse workforce in the NHS in October 2016, compared with 2,725 in October 2015.

Commenting on the checklist, Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said: “We want to draw up a campaign checklist on public health so that our members can lobby the prospective parliamentary candidates and gain their support for the next parliament”. Ms Amadi also called on the Government to “secure the future” of community nursing by increasing and ringfencing money for the workforce and the “vital work” it carries out with families on a daily basis.

Labour’s NHS election pledges

This week, Jeremy Corbyn sought to put Labour’s record on the NHS at the centre of the election campaign. Revealing its NHS manifesto pledges on Wednesday, Labour promised that a victory on 8th June would mean:

  • Scrapping the 1% pay cap in place this Parliament, so that pay is increased to a “sustainable level” for all NHS staff;
  • Reversing the end of bursaries and introduction of tuition fees planned for August for student nurses and midwives; and
  • Tougher rules on safe staffing levels in NHS settings.

The Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth publicised the manifesto pledge on Radio 4’s Today programme, saying that Labour “will give the NHS the funding it needs.” Countering Labour’s comments, Jeremy Hunt stated that while the Government would like to pay NHS staff more, “we have had to face a very difficult period financially” which prevented this.

As previously reported, the current Government’s 1% pay cap for the NHS workforce, due to be in place until 2020, has come under severe criticism from the health care sector. At Unison’s annual health conference in Liverpool this week, members agreed to ramp up their campaign to challenge the Government’s annual pay rise cap. The union’s campaign is set to include lobbying for a least £1 an hour extra for all Agenda for Change staff, and ensuring £10 an hour was the minimum wage the NHS can provide. Earlier in the conference, Unison’s general secretary had said nurses and other NHS staff are “right to feel angry” over yet another 1% pay rise, describing it as “an insult”.

Against this background, Labour’s pledge to scrap the 1% pay cap has been received positively by several health stakeholders. Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and Economics at the Health Foundation, commented: “With rising inflation, the impact of a cap on pay increases means a fall in the living standards of those working in the NHS. For example, health and social care staff have seen a 6% pay cut between 2010 and 2017, when taking account of inflation. This compares to a 2% reduction across the economy as a whole.”

Polling gap narrows between Labour and Conservatives on health policy’

In stark contrast to previous general election campaigns, when Labour traditionally enjoyed major support over its health and care policies, a survey published by ORB International this week suggests that the Conservatives are closing in on Labour’s previous “NHS advantage”.

While 40% of voters are confident Labour would handle the health service well, 38% think the same of the Conservatives. As Labour just announced its NHS election promises, the poll provides an indication to Labour that not even their traditional “trump card” will be able to stall what many suggest will be a historical victory for Theresa May on 8th June.

RCGP launches general election manifesto

The RCGP has released a six-point General Election manifesto this week, urging that patients care must not take a ‘back seat to Brexit’. The medical body is concerned that as Brexit still dominates the political – and now the election – agenda, critical decisions affecting the NHS and the future of patient care could be overlooked or ignored during general election campaigning.

At the centre of the RCGP’s election manifesto is the worry that patient safety could be at risk unless the status of EU workers is guaranteed. The RCGP suggests that non-UK qualified doctors make up two fifths of the career grade paediatric workforce. Consequently, the RCGP is demanding guaranteed status for EU healthcare professionals already working in the UK – and for it to be made as easy as possible for doctors from the EU to move to and work in the UK.

The Chair of the RCGP, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: “We are launching our manifesto ahead of those of the political parties to try and influence their campaigns and get the message across that this General Election cannot be a one ticket campaign about Brexit”.

Health Committee publishes report on preparations for Brexit

The Health Select Committee has released a report on the consequences of Brexit for health and social care. The report intends to be the first phase of an inquiry which the Committee began during this Parliament, addressing the immediate issues posed by Brexit for both staff and patients within the health and social care sector.

The report calls for the Government to construct a list of issues that require contingency planning and for health concerns to be “front and centre of the British negotiating priorities”. The report identifies workforce retention and recruitment, and reciprocal health care agreements, as key areas of concern.

Commenting on the impact of Brexit, the report contends: “The impact Brexit will have on people who rely on the EU’s reciprocal healthcare arrangements should not be underestimated […] The Government’s plan for our post-Brexit future should both ensure that health and social care providers can retain and recruit the brightest and best from all parts of the globe and that the value of the contribution of lower paid health and social workers is recognised.”

Responding to the report, president of the Royal College of Physicians, Jane Dacre agreed with the Committee’s recommendations, and similarly called for the Government to “put patients at the heart of Brexit negotiations.”

RCPCH publishes State of Child Health report

The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health’s (RCPCH) has warned that a lack of both nurses and doctors specialising in children’s health has recently forced many paediatric and neonatal units to temporarily close to admissions.

RCPCH’s report “The State of Child Health” reveals that shortages of nurses and doctors led to periods of closure to new admissions for 31% of paediatric inpatient units and 41% of neonatal units across the UK in the year to September 2015. The report also highlights a serious shortfall in the paediatric workforce and that staff have failed to keep pace with patient numbers, leading to “dangerous pressure on an already stretched service.”

The report further indicates substantial vacancies at consultant and trainee levels, and a low proportion of academic consultants. It found that there are large variations in which national service standards are being met, and unexplained regional variations in application numbers to paediatric training, and competition ratios, across the country.

Commenting on the report, Professor Neena Modi, President of the RCPCH, said: “The facts speak for themselves: the situation is serious. There simply aren’t enough doctors to meet the needs of infants, children and young people, and advance their healthcare through clinical research”.

Risk remains from chronic lack of nurses, warns union

A snapshot survey of 2,704 nurses across the UK has revealed that a large majority of nurses believe the NHS continues to suffer from “chronic understaffing” and that as a result, patients’ lives are being put at risk. About two-thirds (63%) of nurses surveyed by Unison in February this year say that wards are so undermanned that health care staff are unable to ensure patients receive safe, dignified, and compassionate care. The survey suggested 41% of nurses were caring for eight or more people, which official guidance deem to be the point at which patient safety it put at risk.

Moreover, more than 69% of respondents argued that developing or updating care plans was more likely to be rushed, unfinished, not done to an acceptable standard, or missed entirely due to understaffing. As research by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also revealed this week, shortages of doctors and nurses who specialise in treating children are forcing health services to turn away patients while demand is rising.

In addition, 54% of surveyed nurses responded they would leave their current job if they could and one in ten said they wanted to quit nursing all together. Commenting on the survey, Union head of health Christina McAnea said: “Nurses aren’t getting enough time to care because they’re so overstretched. It is time the Government showed it cared by introducing minimum nurse to patient ratio. Then nurses wouldn’t have to ration their time, and patients would get the care they deserve”.