Today is our NHS’s 73rd birthday. Throughout its history, the service has undergone extensive changes to meet the changing health needs of generations of Bristolians. And few years have seen our health service tested in the way covid-19 has.
This pandemic gives us pause to consider how we can safeguard the NHS for the future, and how we can better recognise the dedication, skill and compassion those working in our health service bring to their work every day. Here’s what we want the government to give the NHS for its birthday to keep our health service fit for Bristol’s future.
Rewarding health and care staff
The scale of the mobilisation that has taken place across Bristol’s health and care service in response to covid-19 has been extraordinary. Hospitals across the country have cared for around 400,000 covid-19 patients, and the NHS has rolled out the biggest vaccination programme in health service history. In Bristol, 68% of the population has received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. Care staff have been particularly vital in this effort – 88% of residents in social care settings across England are now fully vaccinated. This could not have been achieved without the skill and dedication of NHS and social care staff and the support of thousands of volunteers. Their commitment must be remembered and rewarded – and we especially need to offer better support for unpaid carers in the future who do so much to keep friends, family members and loved ones safe and cared for in Bristol.
A sustainable settlement for social care
The pandemic has shown that pressures on the NHS can accelerate and intensify without a sustainable social care system that ensures residents are cared for and healthy before and after they receive hospital care. Yet Bristol, like many other places, faces significant financial pressures in adult social care. We’re doing what we can to help meet the growing demand for social care in Bristol, transforming our systems to that people live healthier and more independent lives in their own homes for longer, while ensuring people can easily get the help they need at the right time. But our reforms will only go so far without a wholescale national reform of how care for residents is delivered and funded.
It is not just Labour politicians like me calling for the government to deliver the plan for social care that the Prime Minister promised on his first day in the job. Nine out of ten councillors from across the political spectrum have called on the government to give greater priority to social care and to give our care systems more resources now. This needs to include more investment in prevention, a strategy for meeting unmet care needs, as well as long-term investment to tackle the scale of costs facing the sector – including preventing people from having to sell their homes to pay for care when they need it.
A Health and Social Care Bill that works for – and with – Bristol
These challenges could be met – in part – by the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill which the government is due to publish this week. We expect that the Bill will more closely integrate health and social care, and do away with the “Lansley” reforms introduced through the Health and Social Care Act in 2012. In theory, this would enable the NHS, local government, and Voluntary and Community Sector to work as equal partners, creating a much more collaborative environment without the competition that the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government introduced in 2012.
On this basis, we would support these reforms – though I remain concerned about the impact of such a dramatic reorganisation of the NHS when our health and care services are still dealing with high numbers of cases of covid-19. If they get it right, there is an excellent opportunity to invest in community health and preventative measures to ensure that the NHS and social care have a sustainable foundation for the long term. But that vision won’t be realised if this is a Bill cooked up in Whitehall with no reference to local people, places and contexts. This Bill must ensure that any reforms can be shaped to suit local circumstances, allow for meaningful integration of health and care services, and – above all – empower Bristol residents to drive the health and care services they want in their communities.
If the government delivers on these crucial issues, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of our thriving NHS for many more years to come.