Bridget Phillipson MP: Health plan risks being a missed opportunity to fix our NHS

A hospital ward.
A hospital ward.
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This week saw Theresa May unveil her 10-year plan for the NHS, in an attempt to sort the mess her government has made of our health service.

For years, the Tories have run the NHS into the ground through a lack of investment.

Despite the best efforts of staff, who do outstanding work in extremely difficult circumstances, too many patients have not had the care they deserve – especially those stuck on waiting lists for months on end.

It’s welcome that the government is finally waking up to the scale of the crisis in our NHS, and any new funding is clearly a step in the right direction.

But while the plan has worthy goals, I’m not convinced it goes far enough.

Everyone wants to see earlier cancer diagnosis, improved mental health care, and more done to prevent serious health problems from developing in the first place.

But for this to become a reality, we need more funding and more staff.

Today, there are tens of thousands of nursing vacancies across England, with many of those in cancer and mental health care – yet there is nothing on how we plug this staffing gap.

The Prime Minister says we need more early intervention to stop people from ending up in hospital.

I agree – but her government is cutting the public health budget by millions, meaning less money for the services that help keep people fit and healthy.

I also worry about aspects of the proposals on technology.

While Skype could help some people book and arrange appointments, it may risk shutting out older or vulnerable patients who struggle to use it, or those who value an ongoing, face-to-face relationship with their doctor.

It’s a wonderful advance that so many of us are living longer lives. But our health and social care system must be ready to meet the demands of an ageing population, especially where many people have complex health needs.

Until we get to grips with the future of social care funding, too many people will not receive the support they need to lead independent lives.

The pressure on frontline services will continue to grow as a result, and without action to boost staff numbers, we risk seeing more patients waiting longer for urgent treatment.

Without the coherent thinking needed to meet the healthcare challenges of the 21st century, this plan risks being a missed opportunity to fix our NHS.