Political and Parliamentary Monitoring
Week Commencing 31st December 2018
The new year has provided many news outlets, think tanks, and analytical platforms with the opportunity to reflect on 2018, in doing so highlighting the main health news which grabbed the nation’s attention and reviewing and assessing how much has changed in terms of health policy. The Digital Health publication focused its attention on the growing technological challenges facing the NHS. In November, the Health & Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, confirmed that 500 NHS Digital staff would be made redundant as part of the organisation’s restructure, with the announcement coming just months after the Department of Health & Social Care committed to investing nearly half a billion pounds in to new technology.
The theme of restructuring was also prominent in the Health Service Journal’s review of 2018. The outlet’s most read stories included the plans from NHS England and NHS Improvement to create seven new “single integrated regional teams” to improve co-working, and calls for NHS Directors to stand down after an investigation by the NHS Counter Fraud Authority.
The year ahead will undoubtedly be dominated by the NHS spending review. The 10-Year Forward Plan outlining the health service’s priorities for the next decade was meant to be published at the end of 2018, but has since been delayed. It has already been announced that the Plan will include a new cancer strategy, but there is speculation that the Government is angling for a commitment from leaders at the Department of Health and Social Care that the extra money will also help reduce waiting-times, which have risen in recent years.
As ever, in the short term the new year will pose challenges for hospital admissions, with the number of emergency calls expected to rise in the event of a cold weather snap. Should demand on NHS services rise, and staff are diverted to work on the frontline, this will inevitably have an effect on day-to-day and planned services. The Secretariat will continue to monitor any developments.
The Secretariat wishes the PCF a prosperous 2019.
- NHS will still be short of nurses in five years
- First ever drop in teaching assistant numbers “concerning”
- Act now to reduce health inequalities
New funding pledged to support children with SEND
The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, has announced that an additional £350 million is to be allocated to supporting children with complex needs and disabilities. In an announcement published during the Christmas recess by the Department for Education, the Education Secretary announced that local councils will receive an additional £250 million over the next two years to provide “much needed support for children and young people with complex SEND.” This is in addition to £6 billion which the Department has already allocated for SEND support over the same time period.
The Secretary of State also announced that families will benefit from more choice over their child’s education through an extra £100 million investment to create more specialist places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools. Additionally, more special free school meals will get the green light, as the Education Secretary confirmed that he will approve all high-quality bids in the current round of special and alternative provision free schools.
Speaking about the announcement, Mr Hinds said that “every school or college should be one for a young person with special educational needs.” The announcement comes just two months after a petition against special needs funding cuts was delivered to the Prime Minister by head teachers. Indeed, there remains speculation that despite the pledged extra funding, many local authorities and schools face growing deficits this year which require difficult funding decisions and the reduction in some services.
There is evidence that, in some cases, paediatric continence issues can be linked to physical, psychological or emotional development in children. With this in mind, any new money for children with SEND will impact on the work of paediatric continence experts, nurses, and those who assist in managing continence conditions.
Extra funding for social care makes NHS better prepared for winter crisis
The National Health Service has said it is “better equipped” to deal with the surge in demand for health services during the winter thanks to a multi-million-pound funding boost. Some £240 million of extra funding made available to local authorities over the last year means that older patients have been able to be discharged from hospitals at a quicker rate, thus freeing up hospital beds.
Councils in England also plan to deliver an additional 30,000 packages of care to older people over the next few months, meaning those at risk of being hospitalised can receive high-quality care in the safety and comfort of their own home.
The Department of Health and Social Care will be eager to avoid a situation like last year, when official figures showed ambulance queues and bed shortages hit their worst levels on record. Ambulance Trusts across England were provided with an additional £36 million in 2018 for 250 new ambulance vehicles. 100 had been delivered by Christmas Eve, with the expectation that more will be made available by Winter.
The news regarding extra funding to avert a winter crisis will be welcomed by PCF. Whilst it is unclear where the funds are coming from, and whether they are being diverted from other NHS services, the additional money is likely to ensure that staff who work in outpatient and non-A&E services will not be diverted, subsequently reducing the possibility of delays for patients needing treatment.
Children ‘second class citizens’ as staff redeployed
Seriously ill children are being treated like “second class citizens” by the NHS as scarce paediatric staff are pulled from emergency rooms to cope with winter pressures in adult service. Around 850 paediatric consultants are needed across the NHS to provide safe and sustainable care, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
However, many nurses and consultants are now being diverted to other duties in adult services, meaning that entire wards are being closed because there are not the staff numbers in place to run them safely. Dr Simon Clark, workforce officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said that “if we do not have the beds, we cannot treat the patients and that means children are missing out on important care.”
The shortage of paediatric consultants is compounded by the staff recruitment crisis in the sector. There has been a 58 per cent drop in the number of European doctors applying to paediatric training in the last year, whilst those consultants working in paediatrics on average only work around 77 per cent of full-time hours. Professor Russel Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has said the NHS “urgently needs hundreds more” doctors.
The Paediatric Continence Forum will be concerned about this news. Given the growing demand for paediatric continence care services, as well as the delays in accessing care at ‘early’ stages from a GP or school nurse, further disruption to planned treatment could result in the quality of life of young people with continence issues falling.