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19.12.18

The NHS Assembly: A moment to reset

Source: NHE Nov/Dec 2018

The development of the NHS long-term plan offers a reset moment: a chance to develop a credible, sector-owned blueprint designed to improve care for patients and the public, argues Leanora Volpe, policy officer at NHS Providers.

At a time when the NHS is undergoing a period of rapid transformation and services are facing ever-increasing pressures at the frontline, the case for meaningful engagement with those who are using and delivering services has never been clearer. The prospect of a new NHS Assembly to help challenge and support the delivery of the long-term plan is therefore an idea whose time has come. It presents a timely opportunity for NHS leaders within the national bodies to re-establish clear lines of engagement and co-production with the frontline as a fundamental pillar of robust policy development.  Here, we set out four key elements for the NHS Assembly to meet its potential as an influential forum for discussing the priorities for the NHS going forward.

A clear purpose and vision…

The NHS Assembly is likely to be comprised of diverse groups from across the health and care sectors, including representatives of commissioning, providers, patients, and the independent and voluntary sectors. The role and remit of the Assembly needs to be well-defined at the outset to ensure a clear focus on how the long-term plan can provide the NHS with sustainable solutions to the pressures it faces.

…underpinned by a realistic task

We know that the NHS is under increasing financial and operational pressures. The provider sector ended 2017-18 with a deficit of nearly £1bn, an overall 8% staff vacancy rate, and ongoing under-performance against key constitutional targets. Similar challenges are also being felt across primary and social care.

It’s clear that the NHS needs significant financial investment, and the public will expect something in return for the extra funding. However, any long-term plan needs to take into account the sector’s starting point, and be realistic about what trusts can achieve with the funding available. The plan has a greater chance of succeeding if it is underpinned by meaningful input from the frontline from the outset to ensure it represents an achievable and sustainable task. Any ask of the NHS should be agreed with those involved in the development of the plan and supported by a clear and realistic plan for how the service will deliver it.

Aligned with the 10-year plan

The NHS Assembly will not be convened in time to help inform the development of the long-term plan, so its members will need to be brought up to speed on the intentions and background to the proposals set out in the plan so that these priorities can be carried through in the work of the Assembly.

NHS trusts, clinicians, commissioners, and other staff on the frontline will be responsible for the frontline delivery of the NHS long-term plan; it is patients, the public and carers who will see the impact of any policy proposals set out in the plan. It’s therefore essential to make sure that the voices of those involved are heard. This includes membership organisations, royal colleges and, importantly, patient representative groups.

While the NHS Assembly is a welcome new development, it cannot provide the depth and breadth of engagement needed to design an achievable long-term plan for the NHS alone. There is a need for regular, detailed and bespoke engagement with the bodies representing different parts of the NHS and the workforce within them, and those representing patients, carers and families, to continue alongside the work of the Assembly. 

As the membership body for trusts within the sector, we look forward to working with the national bodies to help ensure the success of the new Assembly, and to play our part in ensuring the voice of the frontline continues to be heard as we seek to meet our ambitions for the NHS over the next decade.

 

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