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17.05.17

Labour pledge to halt STPs risks holding back essential service changes

Health organisations, including two leading think-tanks, have agreed with the ambitious measures for healthcare set out in Labour’s manifesto released yesterday – although some voiced scepticism about the party’s plans to put STPs on hold.

In the manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn’s party stated it would: “halt and review the NHS STPs which are looking at closing health services across England, and ask local people to participate in the redrawing of plans with a focus on patient need rather than available finances”.

This is a measure that the King’s Fund stated could hold back improvements being made on delivering the ambitions of STPs.

“The proposal to halt STPs risks holding back essential changes to services,” Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund commented. “Labour is right that there has so far not been nearly enough engagement with the public and patients and this needs to happen, but where the case for change has been made politicians should not stand in the way.”

However, Ham also stated that commitments to extra funding for the NHS and social care were very much welcome. But he said that a serious commitment to change had to go hand-in-hand with extra cash: “Investment needs to go alongside reform to develop new and better ways of delivering care, rather than protecting outdated services”.

Ham added that in the long term, spending on health and social care needed to rise as a share of GDP to meet rising demand and bring the UK in line with other developed countries in Europe like Germany.

Nuffield Trust warn £30bn investment is still not enough

Likewise, The Nuffield Trust also said that Labour’s pledge to hand considerable funds to the NHS and social care was an encouraging move for the health service.

But Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the think-tank, added that though the £30bn extra for the NHS over five years would provide relief in the short term, it would not be enough to fix the NHS’s long-term pressures.

“In three or four years’ time a funding gap will re-emerge as NHS costs continue to rise, and our current problems will return,” Edwards stated. “A longer-term commitment to keep pace with rising prices, wages and the aging population is still needed.”

Edwards also raised concern about Labour’s pledge to bring down the number of private and voluntary organisations providing care in the NHS.

“We worry that sweeping legal changes to reduce contracting with private and voluntary sector providers would take up valuable time and money without really helping tackle the biggest problems the NHS faces,” he said.

However, Edwards put his backing behind Labour’s plan to create an Office for Budget Responsibility for Health – a measure the think-tank has previously supported and that NHS Confederation boss Niall Dickson also has called for.

Doctors back Corbyn

Health union the British Medical Association (BMA) also said that promises to increase funding, lower bed occupancy and guarantee EU workers the right to stay in the UK would likely sway many doctors and health workers to vote Labour.

“Doctors will be heartened to see Labour promise action on high rates of bed occupancy,” said Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair. “The UK already has the third lowest number of hospital beds per head in Europe. The current delays that patients are facing have almost become the norm and this is unacceptable.”

Labour’s plan to conduct a review into STPs was also supported by Dr Porter, who commented: “Doctors have significant concerns that STPs have become a vehicle for delivering up to £26bn in cuts and the BMA would agree with calls to ensure any plans are driven first and foremost by patient care.”

Much like the Nuffield Trust, Dr Porter also said that above anything, the NHS needed a long-term plan to fix its problems: “While many of the measures in this manifesto sound promising, if the NHS is to survive under any government, it needs long-term, credible and sustainable plans to deliver the fully funded and supported NHS that staff want and patients deserve.”

Top Image - Jeremy Corbyn speaks to nurses at the RCN's annual congress in Livrpool, Peter Byrne PA Wire

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