NHS aims to save 500,000 more lives in next decade
Plans to be unveiled by Prime Minister Theresa May include a commitment to make the NHS the first health service anywhere in the world to offer genomic tests to every child diagnosed with cancer.
The NHS says the measures, which will also see adults with rare conditions receive genomic analysis, will ensure early detection of three out of every four cancers by 2028, up from the current rate of one in two.
Described as a “blueprint to make the NHS fit for the future”, as part of the plan there is a pledge to spend an extra £4bn a year on a range of measures, from improving neonatal care to transforming mental health provision.
NHS England says using new technology such as remote GP consultations and a “renewed focus” on prevention will prevent 85,000 premature deaths a year in a decade.
They also claim 150,000 heart-attacks, strokes and dementia cases will be prevented and promise three million people will benefit from improved stroke, respiratory and cardiac services.
The plan, compiled by NHS England, follows six months of consultation with professional bodies, charities, research organisations and patient groups.
It will set out the priorities for a 3.4% five-year funding increase announced by Mrs May in June.
NHS England say the money, which will be worth an extra £20bn by 2023-24, will be used to tackle existing pressure as well as new commitments “putting the NHS back on a sustainable financial path”.
Independent economists and think tanks have estimated that the new money is only enough for the NHS to meet its existing commitments, including meeting key performance targets that have been missed for several years.
The prime minister conceded on Sunday that the service is falling behind targets such as the requirement to see, treat or discharge 95% of patients in A&E within four hours.
“We’re slipping against the targets, despite the fact we are actually doing more [treatments], the demand is outstripping that,” she said.
“What the extra money enables us to do, what the long-term plan enables us to do, is actually step back and say ‘how do we ensure that the NHS continues to be one of the best health services in the world?'”
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: “[The plan] keeps all that’s good about our health service and its place in our national life. It tackles head-on the pressures our staff face.
“And it sets a practical, costed, phased route map for the NHS’s priorities for care quality and outcomes improvement for the decade ahead.”
As part of attempts to improve prevention and integration of services, for the first time the new money will see the budget for primary care – GPs, opticians, dentists and pharmacists – grow faster than the overall NHS budget.
Some £4.5bn will be spent on “a new service model”, with health bodies and local government working together more closely, in part to improve the treatment of elderly patients.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The whole purpose of the NHS has to shift to helping people stay healthy as much as helping them when they are ill, as part of a move to prevention rather than cure.”
The aspirations of the plan have been broadly welcomed, but professional bodies and unions have questioned whether the new money is enough, and the lack of detail on how a staffing crisis that has left 100,000 posts vacant posts will be tackled.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital and ambulance trusts, said: “The funding settlement – while welcome – does little more than cover rising costs and demand. We’re also constrained by severe workforce shortages.
“And after the best part of a decade of austerity, there’s a lot of catching up to be done – both in terms of performance against the main NHS targets, and finance.
“The NHS frontline wants an ambitious plan but, above all, a realistic and deliverable plan… We must avoid an undeliverable wish list that makes too many promises as over-promising sets the NHS up to fail.”
Cancer Research warned that progress against the disease could be hampered by staff shortages.
“Despite the real progress made over the last 20 years, the UK’s cancer survival still lags behind the best performing countries in the world and by 2035 one person every minute will be diagnosed with cancer. What we need now is a detailed plan to address the staffing shortages. Ultimately, without enough properly trained specialist staff to diagnose and treat those with cancer, progress will stall.”
There is also concern that the plan can only provide a partial answer to the challenges facing the NHS until the government sets out its social care strategy.
Mr Hancock said a long-delayed Green Paper would finally be published soon.
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