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RCP at party conferences 2023: Expanding the workforce, reducing health inequalities and getting the basics right for staff

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) had a strong presence at the 2023 party conferences, engaging with sector stakeholders and key decision makers from the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour and Plaid Cymru. Across the conferences, RCP president Dr Sarah Clarke and senior officers attended meetings, events and took part in public panels to discuss pressing issues facing the medical workforce and healthcare delivery.   

Key policy issues advocated by the RCP across the party conferences: 

Workforce: A central theme in the RCP's discussions was the urgent need for more doctors and the importance of retaining the NHS staff we already have.  

Reducing health inequalities: The RCP emphasised the need to reduce health inequalities and avoidable illness to reduce labour market inactivity and demand on healthcare services. Tackling disparities in health is crucial to creating a more sustainable and effective healthcare system. 

Sustainability: The RCP published a new policy paper earlier this year on healthcare sustainability and climate change. Throughout the conferences, RCP senior officers raised the public health impacts of climate change and the urgent need to take action. 

Clinical research opportunities: The RCP highlighted the potential in clinical research to enhance patient care. Advancements in research lead to improved treatment methods and better healthcare outcomes. 

Liberal Democrat Party Conference 

RCP’s academic vice president Professor Ramesh Arasaradnam represented the RCP at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Bournemouth. There, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion to prevent ill health by addressing health inequalities and to establishing a ‘health creation’ unit in the cabinet office.  

In response, Ramesh welcomed the commitment to a new cabinet office unit as well as the the conference’s focus on the NHS. He also welcomed the commitment to restoring the Public Health Grant to at least 2015 levels, alongside other public health measures such as limiting junk food advertising before the watershed.  

Ramesh also met sector stakeholders and attended a private roundtable with NHS Providers which explored the benefits of prioritising NHS staff wellbeing, improving equality, diversity and inclusion, and the support needed to deliver wellbeing initiatives. 

Conservative Party Conference 

RCP’s clinical vice president Dr John Dean represented RCP members at the Conversative Party conference in Manchester. He participated in a Policy Exchange panel event on diagnostics alongside DHSC Minister Neil O'Brien MP, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s head of policy Dr Susan Mitchelle, and Sarah Neville, global health editor from the Financial Times. During the discussion, John emphasised workforce issues as a major challenge and stressed the importance of retaining and training healthcare professionals. He also raised concerns about access to early diagnostics and the impact of health inequalities. 

In response to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care's speech, the RCP supported the decision to expedite the expansion of medical school places to September 2024, but highlighted the need for sufficient training places for junior doctors and improvements in working conditions. John said in his response that that dissatisfaction and attrition rates were a significant challenge for the NHS and urged the government to take a lead in bringing ongoing strike action to an end. 

Read John's full statement here.  

The RCP also welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement at the Conservative party conference for a 'smoke-free generation.' This plan included new legislation to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to people born after January 1, 2009. 

John met MPs and sector stakeholders and attended roundtable hosted by NHS Providers which covered key themes including the importance of capital funding across the sector including primary care, community and mental health – as well as having the right resources for patients and staff.  

Labour Party Conference 

RCP president Dr Sarah Clarke represented RCP members at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. She participated in a panel event on the future of the healthcare workforce, alongside the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) and Guardian health editor Denis Campbell. Sarah drew attention to vacant consultant positions identified in an RCP census, the adverse effects of staff shortages on both patients and morale, and measures to enhance staff retention by 'getting the basics right.'

Sarah also advocated for an increase in training places commensurate with the expansion of medical school places. She spoke about the need for comprehensive data before the projections in the NHS Long-Term Workforce Place (LTWP) are refreshed so that the number of specialist training places needed now, as well as in the future, can be strategically mapped out. Sarah met with a number of MPs, sector stakeholders and attended a BMA roundtable event with the shadow health minister Karin Smyth MP to discuss the government’s LTWP and barriers to retaining the current workforce.  

The RCP also responded to the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care's speech, welcoming the announcement of 'catch-up' clinics to reduce waiting lists. The response emphasised the importance of prioritising staff retention and called for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. As the shadow secretary said, ‘we are getting to people too late.’ 

Plaid Cymru Party conference 

RCP vice president for Wales, Dr Hilary Williams, represented the RCP at the Plaid Cymru annual conference in Aberystwyth. Hilary chaired an RCP-sponsored main stage debate on health inequalities alongside psychologist Dr Rachel Rahman, Member of the Senedd for Dwyfor Meirionnydd Mabon ap Gwynfor, and Member of the Senedd for the South Wales West region Sioned Williams. The panellists answered questions about winter pressures, funding constraints, integrated care and access to remote and rural healthcare in the context of health inequalities and social justice.