With the nation’s health fraying and health and care services under extreme strain, we set out the major challenges and four priorities for the new government.
Unfair differences in health between more and less deprived areas in England are vast and growing. Meanwhile health and care services are under extraordinary strain and more people are struggling to get the care they need. These issues are not new, although the pandemic has stretched services that were already struggling to cope.
The cost-of-living crisis will put even more pressure on people and public services over winter and – without major policy intervention – risks turning into a health crisis. The new government must take immediate and widespread action to protect people’s health and put health and care services on a more sustainable footing.
In this short briefing we outline four key priorities for the new government:
- Address workforce shortages: Staff gaps stand at around 132,000 in NHS trusts and 165,000 in adult social care. There is an urgent need for a long-term workforce strategy for the NHS and social care, backed by sustained government investment.
- Tackle unmet need: The hospital waiting list in England is already at a record high and could grow to between 7 and 11 million by next year. People are also finding it harder to access their GP and there are backlogs for community services. Growing staff numbers would improve access. But wider policy changes, as well as increased funding, are also required.
- Support and expand social care: The social care system is on its knees. Many people go without the care they need, terms and conditions for staff are poor, and reliance on unpaid carers is high. A mix of reform and investment is needed to improve and expand the system.
- Enable people to live healthy lives: Government committed to ‘levelling up’ the country and now needs to match this ambition with the policy changes and investment needed to tackle social and economic drivers of health inequalities. The cost-of-living crisis adds urgency to this agenda. Without immediate action, there is a risk the cost-of-living crisis will become a health crisis.
Investing in health
In each of these four areas, a mix of policy change and investment is needed. Spending on health per person in the UK is slightly above the OECD average but significantly less than G7 and western European countries – and well below countries such as France and Germany. Ultimately, the level of public spending on health and social care is a political choice. The nation’s health should be seen as an asset worth investing in.