The 10-year plan to save the NHS

Life support: NHS bosses say the plan could save up to 500,000 lives in a decade.

What will the NHS look like in 10 years? Yesterday, the government attempted to answer that question when it unveiled a long-term plan for the extra £20 billion of funding promised to doctors.

Last year, on the 70th birthday of the National Health Service (NHS), Prime Minister Theresa May gave it a birthday present: £20.5 billion of extra funding a year by 2023. Yesterday, in what May called a “truly historic moment”, the NHS explained how it planned to spend that cash.

Around £2.3 billion will go towards mental health services, particularly for young people. Another £4.5 billion will go to GPs and “community care”. That includes things like exercise programmes for people with heart disease and allowing GPs to tackle loneliness by prescribing choirs or art classes.

Meanwhile, advances in genomics will mean more personalised medicine. For example, children with cancer will get DNA tests to find out which treatments will work best.

The plan also promised to improve the early diagnosis of cancer. Currently, only half of patients are diagnosed while their cancer is at stages one or two. The NHS hopes to bring that up to three quarters, potentially saving 55,000 extra lives over 10 years.

This is all part of a plan to shift the focus of the NHS. The old saying that “prevention is better than cure” is now its official policy. If the population is healthy, or illnesses can be caught early, less money will be spent on expensive treatments later. And of course, it is better for patients if they can avoid getting sick in the first place.

But it will not be easy. Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said the “ambitious” plan would be “extremely tough” to make a reality — especially as the NHS is currently short of around 100,000 doctors, nurses and other staff.

Then there is the fact that the UK’s population of over-85s is set to double in the next 20 years, meaning more patients with several complex health problems at once.

Finally, the plan asks individuals to take more responsibility for their own health. England’s most recent health survey found that nine out of 10 people have an unhealthy habit like drinking, smoking or eating poorly. Half have two. Doctors can tell people to be healthy all they like; in the end, they cannot force anyone.

Doctor, doctor

Most people agree that the NHS needs reform. But how? In the end, who is actually responsible for your health? You? Your doctor? The government? What about fast food companies or sugary drink makers? The NHS cannot create a healthy country all by itself.

Then there is the problem of funding. Around 90% of people believe in the NHS’s grand vision: free healthcare which is available to everyone and funded by taxes. But no matter how much money is spent, it always needs more. Is it worth it? Or should we be forced to pay for some treatments? If so, which ones?

You Decide

  1. Should seeing a doctor always be free?
  2. Who is responsible for keeping you healthy?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have been given the task of reorganising the NHS over the next 10 years. Write a list of the five changes that you would make first. This could mean new technology, different kinds of funding, new priorities, or anything else you can think of.
  2. Choose one of the areas of healthcare mentioned in this article (such as mental health, cancer or elderly care) and write a short report answering the following questions: what is it? How big is the problem? How it is treated?

Some People Say...

“The NHS is the closest thing the English have to a religion.”

Nigel Lawson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The extra funding for the NHS represents a budget increase of around 3.4% per year from this year onwards. That is more than it has received in the last 10 years, but well below the 4% average it has received each year since its creation in 1948. Around 4% a year is also the increase recommended by experts at The Health Foundation, Nuffield Trust and King’s Fund think tanks.
What do we not know?
Whether the funding increase will, therefore, be enough to keep improving the NHS, up to the standards that are now expected from it. Targets (such as patients being seen and treated within four hours in A&E) are now regularly missed. Some people think that for the NHS to survive in the 21st century, a much bigger rethink needs to happen.

Word Watch

National Health Service
Founded in 1948 by Labour health minister Nye Bevan, the NHS is the UK’s vast healthcare system. It includes hospitals, GPs, and other specialist services (such as counsellors or sexual health clinics). It employs 1.5 million people and treats one million patients in England every 36 hours. Almost all of its services (with a few exceptions) are free to use for UK citizens and funded by taxation.
Prescribing
Officially advising a medical treatment for a patient.
Genomics
The science of genomes (a living creature’s complete set of DNA). Being able to map and understand a person’s genome could help doctors to spot any genetic diseases, as well as understand which conditions are likely to develop over time.
Diagnosis
Identifying an illness.
Stages one or two
Doctors tend to use four stages to describe how far a cancer has spread. Stage one means it is still small and only found in the organ where it began. Stage two means it is larger but has still not spread to other organs.
Health survey
An annual survey of around 8,000 adults and 2,000 children in England.

Subjects

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