Times Healthcare Report Highlights Mounting NHS Issues

A report commissioned by The Times revealed the considerable pressures that the health and social care sector is facing.

The Times launched the Health Commission in January 2022 to consider the future of health and social care in England in the light of the pandemic, the growing pressure on budgets, the A&E crisis, rising waiting lists, health inequalities, obesity and the ageing population, consulting with panel of expert ­commissioners, chaired by Rachel Sylvester, of The Times, and receiving evidence from more than 600 witnesses including within healthcare, is the sector, policy experts and government officials.

The report has recommended that very NHS patient should have their health information digitally stored in one place so that any doctor treating them can access their records irrespective of where they are.

The report’s findings include its findings the support for patient passports, faster mental health treatment for the young and writing off student loans for doctors who stay within the health service, the full report can be viewed here

Responding to the report Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Thea Stein said: “In an election year the final report from the Times Health Commission should provide plenty of food for thought. The breadth of the report illustrates that across health and care services we need innovative and bold action. The Commission puts a lot of stock in role of new technology to bring about improvement, but serious questions remain about how we fund and properly invest in the talented people we need to provide these vital services to patients and the public.

“The Commission is right to point to the need to act on workforce concerns, and we are pleased that the Commission, and public polling, has backed the sensible and realistic proposal to gradually write off the student debt of healthcare professionals, put forward by the Nuffield Trust last September. The government’s plan to increase clinical training places are ambitious, but without a realistic plan to keep people within the workforce, the benefits will not be felt as hoped. We continue to argue that writing off the debt is affordable, credible and the benefits will be felt immediately.

“The failure to implement limited proposed reforms to social care funding is the latest delay to taking steps to pull the care sector back from the brink. The proposals set out by the Commission propose a new system based on principles of sustainable funding, a consistent and clear offer, stable provision of services and a strong and valued workforce. The commission also proposes much needed ideas to improve the perception of social care careers by encouraging medical students to spend some time during training in these care settings. The funding model suggested still requires politicians to step up and make the tax and funding decisions needed and sadly this remains the biggest barrier to any progress.

“While many of these ideas are of individual merit, political leaders will remain faced with the difficult question of how to bring the changes needed together while health and care services and their workforce remain under severe pressure. That inevitably includes how to fund the change and accepting the need for long-term investment rather than expecting quick fixes.”

Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘Our health and our health care services are at a crisis point. This report is a welcome contribution to the debate about the solutions and confirms there is much agreement about what needs to happen. This includes creating policies that address health rather than just healthcare, shifting the focus to prevention and early intervention services, maximising the potential of innovation, and ramping up efforts to retain staff and boost the workforce.

‘Many of these solutions have been known about for years, but not implemented. Successive governments have focused on short term solutions to immediate challenges, not fully grasping the wider opportunities to improve the health of the nation. The impact of these decisions is clearly visible in the challenges now faced by our healthcare system with people struggling to access the care they need when they need it, and in the overall health of the population. While public support for the NHS remains rock solid, public satisfaction with the health service is at its lowest since it first began to be tracked 40 years ago.

‘There is precedent to show that when political will exists, and a long-term approach is taken, significant improvements to health and to healthcare services can be made. To improve the nation’s health, politicians should focus on making health and care a more attractive place to build a career, bolstering out-of-hospital care such as primary, community and social care services, and helping people live healthier lives through a focus on preventing illness.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: “This new report, which we have worked closely with the Times Health Commission to shape, makes a number of important recommendations about the future of the health service.

“Many of these suggestions will align closely with the views and aspirations of health leaders.

“It is very welcome to see an emphasis on the vital role that technology can play in healthcare and in this fast-moving digital age, it is more important than ever that the NHS keeps pace.

“We know that not only can greater and more streamlined use of technology benefit the NHS in terms of bringing better quality and faster care to patients, in can also do much to relieve the multiple pressures faced by health service leaders and their staff.

“However, there are still some IT issues within and across NHS organisations where data is not able to link up yet. While the vision of having shared health and care records in one place is important for both patients and staff, the process, infrastructure and support need to be set up to make this a reality

“The NHS is recognised as one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the developed world, but we know that more can be done to improve productivity, and health leaders and their teams are always looking at ways to generate even greater efficiencies.

“One of the crucial ways that this productivity challenge can be addressed is by providing the NHS with the capital investment it needs, which has not been covered in this comprehensive report. Specifically, in England, capital funding needs to increase to at least £14.1 billion annually, a £6.4 billion increase from the current level of £7.7 billion. This is vital if we are to increase productivity and reduce waiting lists.

“Elsewhere, we know the importance of good mental health for the next generation. If we don’t treat children early enough, they are much more likely to develop lifelong issues and so our members are focussed on ensuring that all children and young people who need care are seen as promptly as possible. However, with demand for services rocketing this is not an easy task.”

“What we also need to see, and recognise is not an easy task, is to see sustained efforts to, on the one hand steady the ship and address the current very real pressures the NHS is under, while at the same time, look clearly to a future where the public health of the nation is improved.

“This means that health must be considered in all government policies so that we shift towards a future where people live longer, healthier lives.”