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Earlier this week, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the Conservative Party’s 10-year plan for the NHS. It pledged to save seven million lives by tackling dangerous diseases through earlier diagnosis and better living standards. Cases of heart attacks, strokes, and dementia will be reduced by 150,000 according to the plan which was published on Monday. However, there are bigger problems which need to be addressed much sooner by May and her government.
The plans to inject funding back into the NHS is always positive news. For too long, it has been mismanaged and whatever amount of money it has received has not been effectively put into place. I think we all remember the Vote Leave campaign telling the country how much money would be given back into the NHS if the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. It turned out that this, surprisingly, was not the case. The promises of financial support went unfulfilled, making this plan even more important. At least with this, unlike the bus, the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are going to be nowhere near it.
In the wake of the announcement, NHS officials admitted that the staff shortage within the organisation is one of the factors which needs to be tackled if the aims of the plan are to be achieved. The stats support this too. Dr. Nick Scriven is the President of the Society for Acute Medicine and his concerns in a Guardian article on Tuesday would have been echoed across the NHS,
“The harsh reality right now is that the NHS is at least 3,100 beds short of what it required last winter, more than 45 percent of consultant posts are unfilled along with 11.6 percent of nursing posts and the proposed green paper on social care is nowhere to be seen.”
There were plenty of targets not hit by Theresa May’s government during their first two years in power. Demand on the NHS as meant that waiting times and planned treatment have failed to be met. Granted, this isn’t always down to the government. too many people have undermined the NHS by taking trivial issues like A & E, clogging up the process, and making genuine emergencies to wait longer. The underappreciation of our National Health Service has gone on far too long.
The NHS is like any organisation. The government can pour as much money into it as they like but if there is either a shortage of people within the organisation to maintain it or people who are ill-equipped to do so then ultimately it will fail. The ever-increasing chance of a no-deal Brexit will more than likely see a significant drop in EU applications for job roles. As of June last year, over 12% of NHS staff (139,000) were from countries within the EU.
It doesn’t take an expert to realise this is a huge slice of the workforce and one which could be affected once Brexit is confirmed. If the shortages cannot be made up through British staff, then post-Brexit Britain may have to look a lot more appealing to maintain a healthy number of EU applicants. Once the numbers of staff are replenished and the extra money promised to be directed away from the EU and into the NHS is in place, only then will this 10-year plan be of any significance.
The NHS is something which the UK should be and, in the most part, is proud of. It is also something which other nations are constantly trying to emulate. It was a labour government which first promised the idea of a National Health service and it won Clement Atlee the first post-war election. The foundations were put into place in the late 1940s with the hope of constructing a welfare state his nation deserved. 70 years later and this ten-year plan might finally be the support which the NHS needs, but the government needs to heed the warnings of understaffing from those most involved in the organisation.