Three MPs with strong links to health have urged the prime minister to establish a cross-party commission to “confront” what they describe as the “growing crisis” in the NHS and social care.
The call to Theresa May comes from two former government health ministers and a shadow health minister.
Liberal Democrat North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who was a minister in the coalition government, has joined forces with Dr Dan Poulter, former minister and Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and Liz Kendall, Labour MP for Leicester West and a former shadow health minister.
Care minister Norman Lamb
In a joint statement (see below), the three senior health figures argued that health and care services in England faced a serious existential challenge, and that partisan politics had failed to come up with long-term solutions to ensure that services are properly funded and sustainable for the future.
Highlighting expert warnings of growing gaps in social care and the diminishing ability of the NHS to meet demand under current spending plans, they called on the government to start a “national conversation with the public and healthcare staff” to tackle the crisis.
On Monday afternoon, the three made their case for a cross-party approach at a health reception at the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Brighton.
Mr Lamb said: “Services are under intolerable pressure as funding fails to keep pace with demand.
“In a country with the world’s sixth largest economy, it should be possible to have a world-class, publicly-funded NHS free at the point of use, and a care sector where nobody loses out because they can’t afford to pay crippling fees,” he said.
“Everyone who believes in the NHS and social care – irrespective of political colour – should work together to guarantee its future,” he said. “So I am delighted to join with Dan and Liz in making this call. Our plea to the prime minister is to act now before it’s too late.”
Ms Kendall added: “The NHS and social care face huge challenges – bigger now than at any point in our history. staff and the families who need care to somehow try and struggle through.
Dr Dan Poulter
“We desperately need a new settlement for health and social care funding, and an independent commission involving the public and staff would play a vital role in helping us to achieve that goal,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr Poulter stated that the NHS and care system was “struggling” to maintain high standards of patient care under current funding plans.
“It is essential that we agree a sensible way forward that provides our NHS and care system with the sustainable funding settlement that it needs to continue to provide high quality patient care,” he said.
Joint Statement: Norman Lamb MP, Liz Kendall MP and Dr Dan Poulter MP
Our call to the new prime minister to establish a cross party process to confront the growing crisis in the NHS and social care system
We have come together because we believe that we have reached a cross roads for our health and social care system. If we carry on as we are, under current spending plans for our health service, the NHS will not be able to continue as we now know it. Unacceptable gaps in social care will also emerge, which will leave many elderly and disabled people without adequate support - unless they are wealthy enough to pay for private care.
We make the following points. We note:
- The dire assessment of Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers when he says that it is now time for ‘our national health chiefs and political leaders to acknowledge publicly that the NHS can no longer deliver what is being asked of it for the funding available’;
- That the King’s Fund’s assessment of draft sustainability and transformation plans shows that, ‘in the absence of eye-watering efficiency improvements, there will be a financial gap running into hundreds of millions of pounds by 2020/21 in most of the footprints.’
- That the government plans to spend a reducing percentage of GDP on health and care between now and 2020, at a time when demand for health services is rising at about 4% every year. No one believes that this is sustainable.
- That the UK is falling further behind the EU average spend on health and care
- The objective of achieving genuine equality for those who suffer from mental ill health cannot be achieved given the acute financial pressures facing the NHS and care system.
- That the social care system faces a gap of £6bn by 2020 according to the independent Health Foundation with funds raised from the 2% precept on council tax likely to bring in only £1.7bn. Government funded care is being increasingly rationed leaving people to fend for themselves. Care providers are predicting a loss of 50-100,000 care home beds over the next three to four years as providers pull out of the market. Care staff and nursing vacancies in the care sector have already reached dangerous levels.
- A major cause of the damaging dispute with junior doctors is that without a properly expanded and resourced medical workforce, an already overstrained resource will be stretched too far
In the light of these existential challenges, we believe that the government must act. We recognise that partisan politics has failed to come up with solutions. We fully recognise the absolute importance of taking steps to ensure that the money available is spent in the most effective way. We understand that this will sometimes involve changes to how services are provided but that such changes will fail unless NHS staff and people who use health and care services are involved in planning for the future.
Immediate action should be taken in the chancellor’s autumn statement. A longer-term settlement is also required. We therefore believe that it is essential that the government establish a cross party commission in order to facilitate a national conversation with the public and with healthcare staff about how we ensure a properly funded and sustainable NHS and care system.
We endorse the founding principles of the NHS as a health service free at the point of need. We fear that we will lose an institution that we all hold dear, unless we take action. We believe that, as the sixth largest economy in the world, it should be possible to achieve an efficient and effective health and care system which achieves some of the best outcomes for patients anywhere in the world. We need to start the discussion and to act now.