While it’s difficult to know with certainty what’s going to happen in British politics over the coming months (weeks, days, hours…), it remains that urgent action is needed to safeguard our health and care.
Health, care and the campaign
Health and care played a bigger role than many expected during the General Election campaign. While none of the major parties chose to focus on health and care, the NHS overtook Brexit as the biggest issue to voters. In some areas, such as Canterbury, cuts to local services may have helped swing the result.
The Conservative Party’s U-turn on social care funding was a defining moment and almost certainly contributed to Theresa May losing her majority. That is unprecedented in recent UK political history and a sign of the increasing salience of social care.
Ahead of the election, we called for the new government to focus on health and care funding, to embed a new model of long term care, and to prioritise health and care in Brexit negotiations.
In our opinion – and those of many commentators – none of the major party manifestos promised health and care the funding needed to meet growing demand for services.
What it means for Brexit
It’s not yet clear how Brexit negotiations will be affected by the outcome of the election. The DUP is supportive of a hard Brexit, but Conservative Party Remainers, including David Cameron and John Major have made significant interventions calling for a revised approach.
Post-election, there has already been a strong spotlight on the impact of Brexit on the healthcare workforce. Nursing and Midwifery Council figures show that there has been a whopping 96% fall in the number of applications from nurses from the EU. Only 46 applied in April this year, compared to 1,304 in July last year.
Jeremy Hunt is not a permanent member on the Cabinet Brexit Committee. This has led to fears that health and care will not be given sufficient weight in Brexit negotiations. The newly launched Brexit Health Alliance, of which National Voices is a member, has been established to make people’s health a priority in Brexit negotiations.
Stability or chaos: what’s next for health and care?
Unless and until there’s a Conservative leadership challenge and/or another snap election, there is likely to be a degree of continuity in health and care policy.
Jeremy Hunt has been reappointed as Secretary of State for Health, and junior ministers Phillip Dunne MP and Lord O’Shaughnessy have also kept their positions. Two new junior health ministers have been appointed to replace those that lost their seats: Jackie Doyle Price MP and Steve Brine MP.
Jon Ashworth will stay in post as Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary. Norman Lamb continues as the Lib Dem’s health spokesperson for the meantime, but may still be tempted to mount another bid for leadership of his party.
Continuity would bring some welcome stability, and enable the Five Year Forward View reforms to pick up pace again. However, the pressures across the system require more than just ‘business as usual’.
Ahead of the election, we summarised the key points of the Conservative’s manifesto. Some of those policies are beginning to reflect the balance of power in the newly formed government. Today, Jeremy Hunt addressed the NHS Confederation conference and there were some interesting changes in his tone. Key areas of government policy to watch include:
- NHS funding – will rumours that the Government may abandon austerity result in a spending review and new funding settlement? Speaking at NHS Confederation Conference, Jeremy Hunt said that more capital spending is needed to support the Five Year Forward View and that he is in discussion with the Chancellor. He said “One of the highest priorities for the Government is putting money into the NHS as the economy continues to afford it.”
- Pay restraint – Speaking days after the election, Jeremy Hunt has told the NHS Confederation Conference that he "has sympathy" for nurses' case over pay. An interesting change in tone.
- Social care funding – what will be the impact of the Conservative’s about-turn on this? What will happen with the promised Social Care Green Paper?
- Five Year Forward View – the Government had promised legislation if needed to assist with implementation (e.g. on the purchaser/provider split). Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference a week after the election, Jeremy Hunt said that STPs are central to the government’s vision, but that there would be no legislation to cement STPs with statutory responsibilities until Brexit negotiations have been concluded. He also highlighted local community engagement in service change as being vital and one of the biggest challenges in coming years.
It’s anyone’s guess what happens next in British politics. The challenges remain the same, but the approach to solving them is up for grabs. National Voices will be keeping members updated as things develop.