Weekly political news round up – 5th May 2017

Overview

This week, the Nursing Times has published an article shedding light on sectoral responses to last week’s Health Committee report on government preparations for Brexit. Nursing and Midwife Council Chief Executive, Jackie Smith, welcomed the report and said the regulator believed it was “essential” that any changes made to the registration process for EU nurses “come as part of the UK’s Brexit negotiations and not separately”. Likewise, Janet Davies, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, argued the report “leaves the government with no place left to turn” and that “Patient safety and the supply of nurses must not be adversely affected by Brexit.”

General election: sector reactions & manifesto speculation

BMA publishes election manifesto

On Tuesday, the British Medical Association (BMA) released its general election manifesto – A Vote for Health – calling on all politicians and parties to “outline credible and sustainable plans to safeguard the future of the NHS.” In the face of an ongoing crisis of the NHS, the BMA has previously said it is vital that the 2017 general election does not turn into a ‘Brexit election’.

The BMA’s manifesto covers five demands:

  • Brexit – act now to provide certainty to NHS staff from EU countries
  • Public health – tackle the ongoing crisis
  • NHS funding – match or exceed health funding of leading European economies
  • General practice – deliver on commitment to stabilise the profession
  • NHS pressures – address the pressures with immediate investment

Commenting on the manifesto, the BMA council chair Mark Porter said: “Our NHS is at breaking point
and it would be all too easy for this election to become the “Brexit election” and little else, at precisely
the time when the health service needs the unrelenting focus of politicians from all parties”. He added
that the next government needs to ensure that NHS funding is equivalent to that of other European
nations, and that EU health professionals are “protected from the impact of Brexit”.

Labour would freeze STP process if elected

Labour has announced that it will suspend the NHS’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP)
process if it wins the election on 8th June. According to shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth,
Labour will create a new body – NHS Excellence – which would lead a new review into the
reorganisation of the NHS, placing local communities at the heart of any decisions. The pledge
effectively commits Labour to resisting all hospital closures proposed by the plans so far, which could
affect A&E, maternity and paediatric units.

Commenting on Labour’s new election manifesto pledge, Jonathan Ashworth said Labour has “listened
to the hundreds of patients and campaigners up and down the country that have been pleading with
the government to hear their concerns about their local services.” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has
responded to Ashworth, calling Labour’s proposal a “nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea” and said that
Labour had backed the plans in its last manifesto.

The RCP publishes four-point election plan

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has published a four-point election plan which puts patients
“firmly at the centre of Brexit negotiations”. The plan outlines four key calls for the next government:

1. Place patient care at the centre of Brexit negotiations.
2. Invest in, support and value the NHS workforce.
3. Deliver a new financial settlement for the NHS and social care.
4. Support people to live healthier lives by investing in public health.

Commenting on the plan, RCP’s president Professor Jane Dacre said: “With each new government
comes a new opportunity to ensure that the NHS has the resources, people and services it needs to
provide the care that our patients deserve. Patients must be at the centre of decisions made on
healthcare provision, and that includes serious consideration of the implications of Brexit on patient
care.”

RCPCH releases “A vision for 2017”

This week, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has published their manifesto for the election, “Child health matters: A vision for 2017”, which urges all parties to put child health care at the centre of the general election. According to the vision, the new government can promote the RCPCH’s aim to improve child health and wellbeing by:

  • Recognising that policies that improve child health and wellbeing represent investment that will result in significant economic return;
  • Recognising the wider determinants of health and wellbeing;
  • Enacting policies that ensure all infants, children and young people have the best start in life;
  • Protecting and modernising health services to meet the needs of infants, children, young people and their families;
  • Making a commitment to well-resourced universal public health services, covering antenatal services, health visiting and school nursing.

Public Accounts Committee labels Department of Health as number one concern

The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, has published her second annual report on the Committee’s work, arguing that the Department of Health stands out as an issue of concern for the next Parliament. The finances of the Department of Health stand at the centre of the report, over which Hillier states her “serious concerns”. According to Hillier, the Department’s timing of releasing its accounts to the House of Commons last year showed it wished “to avoid scrutiny and to hide the true extent of the Department’s financial woes.” She added: “We remain concerned about this year’s accounts which will be laid when Parliament returns after the General Election.”

Commenting on STPs, Hillier argued that STPs are at risk of being seen as a cover for cuts, even where good quality, modern, patient-focused services are being planned and that the lack of transparency throughout the creation process is one reason for this. The report concludes that “there is room for change and improvement in many areas of the NHS but the handling of the finances and the increasing pressures of a growing population mean that its focus is on finance rather than effectiveness. Honesty and clarity over NHS funding is a fundamental before there can be serious change.”

Conservatives make significant gains in local elections

The results of the local government and mayoral elections held across the UK on 4th May have started to emerge, with 4,851 council seats being contested across 88 councils. The counting for many seats did not begin until Friday morning, with results expected throughout the day, but early indications are that the Conservatives have made significant gains in its number of council seats and control of local authorities. By 14:30 on 5th May, the Conservatives had gained 383 seats, while Labour had lost 267 and UKIP had lost 105, winning just one seat. The Liberal Democrats have lost 36 seats, against expectations of more substantial gains at what would be a mid-point from the 2015 election, whereas the Greens gained 19 seats and Plaid Cymru 33.

The Conservatives have so far gained overall control of ten new councils – including Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight and Monmouthshire, all of which were previously in no overall control. Labour has lost control of Glasgow City Council for the first time in 40 years, after losing all of its MPs in the city in 2015 and constituency seats in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. Labour has also lost control of six councils, including Blaenau Gwent and Bridgend, but retained control of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea.

The Conservatives have so far won two of the eight mayoral contests – in Tees Valley and the West of England – while Labour succeeded in securing mayoralties in Doncaster, Liverpool City Region and North Tyneside. Turnout in some of the mayoral contests is thought to have been as low as 25%, indicating a low level of public engagement with this new layer of devolution.

Health Foundation warns England could face a shortfall of 42,000 nurses by 2020

In a report released on Sunday, the Health Foundation has warned that England could face a shortfall of 42,000 nurses by 2020, corresponding to 12% of the workforce. The report has analysed the 2016 NHS staff survey and found that almost 50% of nurses are concerned that there are not sufficient staffing levels to allow them to do their job properly. In April, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS released its report, which defined the biggest internal threat to the sustainability of the NHS to be the lack of a comprehensive national strategy to secure enough employees for the NHS.

The Health Foundation’s report has examined two critical issues in workforce policy, deemed to pose both immediate and long-term risks to the sustainability of the NHS: staffing numbers and standards; and the future of NHS pay policy. The report highlights that the lack of a coherent workforce strategy which is integrated with funding plans and service delivery models is one of the ‘Achilles heels’ of the NHS.

Commenting on the report, the Director of Research and Economics at the Health Foundation, Anita Charlesworth, said: “We are still not training enough nurses, doing too little to stop nurses leaving, and there seems to be no plan for pay policy following almost a decade of pay restraint. On top of this, the impact of Brexit means that international recruitment – the health service’s usual get out of jail free card for staff shortages – is at risk.” She added: “Whatever the outcome of the election, the new government will have to finally get a grip of workforce planning in the health service.”