House of Lords select committee on NHS sustainability

Responding to a report published today (Wednesday) by the House of Lords select committee that criticises the ‘short-sightedness’ of successive governments for failing to plan effectively for the long-term future of the health service and adult social care, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said:

“This report highlights what we have been saying – that the NHS desperately needs a long-term strategy to deal with the funding and staffing problems threatening the delivery of high-quality care. For too long successive governments have based health policy on short-term measures that do not benefit patients or staff in the long term. This is especially evident in cuts to funding for public health which this report identifies as short-sighted and counter-productive. The NHS is at breaking point and this can only be relieved through increasing investment based on a realistic assessment of what is needed to meet the health and social care needs of current and future generations. We need politicians of all parties to come together to agree a long-term approach and put an end to political game-playing with the NHS.

“The committee is right to identify the serious and ongoing problems in recruiting and retaining NHS staff, and the morale damage of years of ongoing pay restraint. Only last week, doctors got yet another real-terms cut in pay despite working harder than ever before. At a time when GPs are unable to keep up with the number of patients coming through the surgery door and hospital doctors are working under impossible conditions, our government should heed the committee’s recommendation and allocate the investment needed to match the promises made.

“It is important that general practice continues to evolve to meet the changing demands of patients, especially those who need more intensive, complex and flexible care in the community. Many GP practices are, with the BMA’s support and leadership, exploring new ways of working, including forming federations or networks to pool resources and plan care for their local populations. A “one size fits all” model won’t do this. General practice’s great strength is its flexibility, and smaller practices can work just as well as larger units in providing services that their patients want. The biggest threat to smaller practices is not their organisational form, but the pressure that all parts of the NHS are under from rising demand, unnecessary bureaucracy, stagnating budgets and staff shortages. It is this wider challenge that the government must urgently address.

We spend less on healthcare than other leading European economies and the NHS cannot continue to do more, with less. We need to end the chronic underfunding of our health service and address inadequate staffing and funding for the health and social care system as a whole.