When will we get a sustainable long-term future for the NHS and adult social care?

Over the challenging winter period we heard calls from across the political spectrum for a financial settlement that will meet the patient needs of today and allow the NHS to undertake the wide-scale system changes that will benefit the patients of the future.

Last week the government published their response to the House of Lords select committee report on the long-term sustainability of NHS and adult social care, an inquiry that I gave evidence to back in 2016.

When giving evidence to the committee, I said:

We are blighted by short-term planning that goes along with the electoral cycle. The health service is a very big and very expensive organisation that does fantastically well. But it is frequently the victim of short-term political decisions that make it less efficient.

Strategies for the health system, such as the Five Year Forward View, are admirable and perfectly deliverable but not over a 5-year period. An increase in the length of time and less inference during the process of those reviews would be very welcome to those of us who work in the health system.

These comments remain true today.

The Lords report highlighted 34 recommendations covering aspects including service transformation, workforce, innovation and public health. The report also laid out recommendations which would develop a lasting political consensus on a sustainable approach to health and social care.

The government's response points to the additional funding allocated to the NHS in the 2017 autumn budget, the development of a workforce strategy by Health Education England and the forthcoming green paper on adult social care. The RCP has welcomed each of these developments, which will help a little to ease the pressures the system currently faces, but the NHS remains underfunded, underdoctored and overstretched.

The pressure the NHS is under is unsustainable. We need a robust long-term plan to alleviate the workforce gaps and, until that bears fruit, we need an immediate solution to encourage the current workforce to stay in the NHS and to encourage others to join them. The concept of the NHS, with universal healthcare, free at the point of delivery, is the envy of the world. Let's keep it that way. 

We need the government to commit to properly resourcing the NHS to secure its future, for the next 70 years and beyond.

Professor Jane Dacre, Royal College of Physicians president