The future of the NHS

An insight into the Conservative's plans for the NHS

After an unexpected election result, the Government lays its plans for the NHS.

It was a result which few people predicted, but at the end, the Conservatives emerged battered, bruised but in government – just. As Theresa May comes to grips with new realities, there are plenty of uncertainties around the shape of future policy. One area that remains relatively unchanged, though, is healthcare. Jeremy Hunt remains as Health Secretary and looks set to continue his ambitious plans for reform.

What are they planning to do?

Since coming to power, the Conservatives have moved to streamline NHS services, save money, introduce more technology and widen the scope of services. It is an atmosphere of austerity. Their 2017 manifesto pledged £8bn more spending over the next five years – a figure which the Nuffield Trust says will see spending – as a proportion of national income – drop from 7.3% to just 7%. Pay will continue to be squeezed with doctors and nurses seeing wage rises lag behind inflation.

Technology is a major focus. Hunt set himself an ambitious goal of turning the NHS paperless by 2018 and although the signs are they may miss it, the service has made considerable strides forward. Patients are to be given access to their medical records online and have more flexibility in making appointments online.

In general, the Conservatives intend to improve recruitment and expand the services on offer. Plans to introduce a seven-day GP service have been accelerated with the timetable moving forward from 2020 to 2019. They plan to tackle the NHS’s reliance on overseas medical professionals by increasing the number of people trained in the UK. Mental Health Services receive particular attention with support being rolled out to every school country and 10,000 new mental health professionals being promised. However, there is no mention of their 2015 pledge to recruit 5,000 new GPs.

What does this mean for health professionals?

The plans mean more pay restraint will lie ahead for doctors and nurses in the UK. At the same time, they will have to change the way they work to make greater use of technology. Services will become more streamlined with inter-departmental sharing of information. This will require a change of mindset as well as the adoption of new skills and expertise, especially when it comes to cyber-security. As the recent ransomware attack which brought the NHS to a standstill earlier in the year showed, the NHS is being targeted by hackers and remains alarmingly vulnerable. Working practices and security measures will need a substantial overhaul.

Final thoughts and conclusion

Healthcare was a major battleground of the election, but surprisingly the gap between the party manifestos is relatively small. NHS professionals have been able to plan ahead with some degree of certainty, but even so, the future is full of challenges. Pay will continue to be restrained and managers will have to continue to find savings. At the same time, they must expand services and meet ambitious performance targets. New technology will change the way they work, create new opportunities and challenges. All the while the spectre of Brexit and its impact on recruitment will loom large. One thing remains certain, however; delivering the NHS of the future will be a major task.

Tom Cropper

Journalist

Tom Cropper is a professional journalist and copywriter with more than 15 years' experience in business, healthcare and politics. His work has appeared in titles such as the Guardian, Time Out, Euromoney and many others.