Confed boss calls for fixes to NHS sinking ship, as Brexit Alliance is launched

Following last week’s general election, which resulted in a hung Parliament, the boss of NHS Confederation has called for politicians to “stop launching life rafts and start fixing the NHS ship”.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference yesterday, Niall Dickson said there are three fundamental challenges facing the sector: money, transformation and workforce.

“On the money, the message is simple: we do not currently have the resources to deliver what the public expects. In England, health spending per head has been flat since 2009 and has fallen slightly elsewhere in the UK while demand has risen inexorably,” said Dickson. 

“Per head spending in England was in fact due to fall over the next few years, so we should at least be grateful for some action on this from the election campaign.”

He stated that while more resources are necessary they are not sufficient, adding “there is now agreement across the UK that without changing the way we deliver care, current systems are not sustainable”.

Dickson added that this is the underlying message of the Five Year Forward View and its sequel Next Steps, stating: “we remain committed to this vision in England”.

The sustainability and transformation partnerships have proved extremely challenging,” he said. “In part, this is because they require leaders to set aside organisational interests in favour of the system as a whole. That is much easier to promise than to deliver.

“And it is made more difficult because the regulatory and accountability mechanisms that govern providers and commissioners are not always aligned. They continue in law, and too often in practice, to be focussed on organisational rather than system performance.

“In reality, the S can simply overwhelm the T – just trying to keep the system afloat is difficult enough without requiring it to transform.”

He added that the opportunity for legislative reform has been made more difficult by parliamentary arithmetic.

“There is no appetite for a re-run of the Health and Social Care Act, regarded by its kindest critics as an unfortunate muddle,” he reflected. “And given a hung Parliament and the looming Brexit negotiations, we have to accept it will not be easy to secure health legislation. Nevertheless, there is scope for tidying up the current legal framework.”

Discussing the Brexit negotiations, he stated that the position of EU nationals in the UK needs to be dealt with at the outset.

“For all of us this is fundamental – we have seen already that uncertainty about the future is affecting the 60,000 staff from the EU, the inflow has already begun to dry up and those that are here fear for their future,” said Dickson. “That cannot be allowed to continue and will be an ongoing priority for the Cavendish Coalition led by the Confederation’s NHS Employers.

“So, we need clarity on funding, we need political courage on transformation and a new approach on securing and supporting our workforce.”

Brexit Health Alliance

Earlier in the day, Dickson also launched a new alliance to safeguard the interests of patients and the healthcare and research they rely on.

Co-chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor, the former permanent secretary of the Department of Health, and Dickson, the Brexit Health Alliance brings together the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations.

According to NHS Confed, the alliance will seek to make sure that issues such as healthcare research, access to technologies and treatment of patients are given the prominence and attention they deserve in the Brexit negotiations.

Sir Hugh Taylor said: “We wish to support the government to achieve the best result for patients and for healthcare across the UK.

“Our aim will be to ensure a strong focus on health as Brexit approaches, and that we offer views from across the health sector to negotiators to ensure that patient care and the population’s health and wellbeing will be protected as we leave the EU.”

Dickson added that is vital we protect world leading research, that patients have access to medicines when they need them and that co-operation between the UK and Europe continues to protect all our citizens.

Brexit Health Alliance founding members:

  • NHS Confederation - Co-chair of alliance
  • Welsh NHS Confederation
  • Northern Ireland Confederation (NICON)
  • Association of UK University Hospitals (AUKUH)
  • Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AOMRC)
  • NHS Providers
  • National Voices
  • Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
  • Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI)
  • The Richmond Group of Charities
  • BioIndustry Association (BIA)
  • Faculty of Public Health (FPH)
  • Association of Medical Research Charities - (AMRC)
  • Scottish NHS Chief Executive Group

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