The incoming Prime Minister will urgently need to grip the crisis facing the NHS ahead of winter by providing the extra support that hospitals, ambulances, mental health and GP services need to deal with the intense and rising pressure they are under.
NHS leaders say the Prime Minister will inherit an NHS in the most challenging state it has been in for decades, with front-line services facing up to lengthening waiting times and other pressures which are undermining the NHS being the best it can be for our patients.
Despite everything that NHS leaders and their staff are continuing to do to respond to high demand for care, they are calling for the next Prime Minister to make this a ‘top three’ priority for the country or risk a health service crisis this winter.
The stakes are high, with the NHS carrying over 132,000 staff vacancies not including primary care – this is contributing to overcrowded emergency departments, spiralling ambulance handover delays and a growing waiting list for elective care that now stands at 6.7 million people.
This is being compounded by a profound deterioration in available social care support, which means around one in seven hospital beds are occupied by patients who are medically fit to be discharged but cannot be moved because of a lack of an available care package in the community. Meanwhile demand for mental health and primary and community care services is also soaring despite a diminishing workforce.
On top of this, the NHS budget is being eroded by soaring inflation, which means health leaders are being left to grapple with a real terms funding cut of up to £9.4 billion this year.
NHS leaders want to see the next Prime Minister and their government prioritise providing capital investment, a funded workforce plan and a proper support package for social care to help mitigate the risks.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:
“Despite huge progress and the best efforts of NHS leaders and their staff, the NHS is in the grip of a crisis that we haven’t seen for decades.
“We’ve been experiencing winter levels of demand in summer, and we are almost certain that the situation will become even tougher when we hit winter. In many ways, the situation is as, if not more, challenging than the one we faced at the height of the Covid pandemic.
“It’s vital that the incoming Prime Minister and their team act quickly and decisively to support the NHS and social care throughout the turbulent weeks ahead. That means taking immediate action that helps to mitigate the considerable risks we are facing in the short term ahead of winter. And then in the medium term taking the steps needed to ensure the NHS is not put in this position going into next winter and beyond.
“The next Prime Minister must use their anticipated emergency budget in September to tackle this crisis head on. Otherwise, they will put NHS leaders in the position of being forced to make impossible choices about which services to cut back over the coming months and years ahead – choices that many are already facing.
“We need a clear and coherent plan that addresses this situation for health and social care before it becomes a full-scale emergency.”