NHS Reform – Key Points

12 Apr 2021 Anne Marie Fogarty

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Ever since the global pandemic took hold here in the UK back in 2020, it is safe to say that COVID-19 has changed the way our National Health Service operates.

For the last year now, hospitals up and down the UK, many of which have been hugely understaffed, have found themselves on the brink of becoming overwhelmed, not only due to the surging number of COVID-19 cases but also due to the backlog of patients awaiting treatments and appoints because of the pandemic and lockdown rules and restrictions.

Recently, a full white paper document was published to indicate that the NHS looks set to be reformed in order to reverse previous reform of the NHS dating back to 2012, under then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Health Ministers believe that this reform will put the NHS in a much stronger position to help treat those who need care and treatment the most.

Did you know, for example, that 1 in 3 people admitted to hospital has five or more chronic health conditions such as asthma, obesity, or diabetes? A decade ago, this number was 1 in 10, so this indicates that changes are needed.


What does the Secretary of State for health have to say?

We cannot highlight every potential change listed in the white paper, but we can look at some critical points.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has stated that the reforms will see local councils and the NHS work in close collaboration with one another to make decisions about health in the local community together.


Integrated care systems

 Mr Hancock has stated that ‘the new approach is based on the concept of population health’. Integrated care systems (ICS) will be set up across England and responsible for securing funding for that particular area’s health.

These integrated care systems will not only provide the treatment and care needed, but they will also provide support for vulnerable people and those who need it the most. They will also help people to learn the fundamentals behind healthy living and to stay healthy in the first place.


What does this mean for patients?

Some people have questioned the government’s timing over these reforms, especially considering the NHS is under so much strain already. Yet, according to Matt Hancock, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of good health.

As far as what this will mean for NHS patients, experts have stated that patients’ changes will be minimal and should not really be noticeable at all.

In truth, these ideas have been floated around for a long time, and the idea behind reform is not a new concept. In fact, it predates the Coronavirus pandemic. If anything, COVID-19 has increased this process’s speed as it has highlighted the importance of good health.

The idea is to offer patients more specialized and tailored healthcare, rather than a generic “one size fits all approach”. As more people seek medical treatment outside of the hospital thanks to the pandemic, now is the perfect time to implement these changes.

If, for example, a patient suffering from multiple conditions needs medical attention, they would likely need attention from different specialists from multiple organizations. These reforms aim to bridge the gap between these different sectors, allowing patients access to the experts they need from one organization instead of several.

The white paper proposes that tendering rules will be scrapped, which ordinarily sees private companies and healthcare providers essentially battle it out and compete for contracts to provide their services. Under the reform act, the NHS and councils will instead collaborate rather than compete.


Addressing social care systems under pressure

Currently, social care systems in the UK are under pressure and have been for many years now. This is largely down to funding, or a lack thereof, as governments, both past and present, have failed to provide funding or reforms to operate the council-run systems adequately.

Under the proposed reform, new powers will be granted to enable the Health and Social Care Secretary to provide instant emergency payments directly to social care providers when required in order to prevent instability in the social care systems.

There have been far too many instances where social care systems have failed patients, which will be addressed. The CQC (Care Quality Commission) will be duty-bound to assess the delivery of adult social care services by local authorities. If these authorities fail to meet their requirements, powers will be granted for the Secretary of State to intervene.

While these reforms are certainly not set in stone, changes are almost certainly coming. Many agree that as long as the government sticks with its plan, honouring the white paper documents, these reforms will be beneficial to everyone in the UK.

Are you a healthcare professional looking for a change yourself? Contact us today and avail of our many opportunities for doctors, nurses and AHPs across the UK.


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