THE strain on health and social services in the UK will be “intolerable” should the Government fail to act to secure the future of the NHS, long term, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, has warned this week.
Bishop Newcome, who is the lead bishop on health and social care, was welcoming a report from a House of Lords Select Committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS, published on Wednesday. It condemned the “short-sightedness” of successive governments in settling for “short-term fixes” to the NHS for political gain, and in failing to make any plans to safeguard its future beyond a decade.
Previous funding for both health and adult social care has been “too volatile and poorly co-ordinated”, the report says, and will need to increase at least as fast as GDP for a decade after 2020, if the NHS is to be sustainable. “We are of the firm opinion that continued cuts to the public-health budget are not only short-sighted but counter-productive,” it says. A cross-party consensus is needed, it says, to bring about these reforms.
Other recommendations include the establishment of a new, independent Office for Health and Care Sustainability, and an alternative model to current GP services. The Government should incorporate social care into the Department for Health, and redraft the NHS Constitution to make clear to the public that access to the NHS involves patient responsibilities as well as patient rights. It must also recognise the link between low levels of staff morale and pay cuts among NHS doctors, nurses, medical staff, and services.
“In Christian terms, this is a prophetic document,” Bishop Newcome said. “It may be raising issues which some people feel are obvious, but it brings many different viewpoints together for the first time. Any government would be very wise to take this document very seriously.”
The Committee argues that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has “fragmented” the system, and should be reformed. Funding apportioned to social care in the latest Budget was “clearly insufficient”, it says, and raising Council Tax was not a solution to the crisis. It comes after a Communities and Local Government Select Committee urged the Government to urgently address its “inadequate” funding of social care, last week, which it said posed “serious threats” to its sustainability in the UK.
A tax-funded, free-to-use NHS is the most efficient way of delivering health care, and should remain in place, the Lords report concluded. But this required a drastic change in the way that the NHS is currently funded and delivered.
Bishop Newcome said: “There is also a huge process of education that needs to take place for the population at large, so that people can understand how much it costs to run the NHS, what it costs to see a doctor, and what the costs are to the service when people fail to turn up for appointments . . . because the cost to the nation due to obesity, alcohol, tobacco, and lack of exercise is tremendous, and impacts massively on the services provided by our NHS.”