The challenges facing the NHS are by now so well-publicised that they’re barely worth repeating, but in a nutshell, the entire health and social care machine has an awful lot more work to do in comparison to the money they have. The rising, ageing population is only one part of the puzzle – the NHS also has to contend with a workforce crisis, the management of properties falling into greater disrepair by the day, and an ever-growing number of people living with complex conditions from which they will never fully recover.
We all love the NHS but one thing it doesn’t always get right is the balance between offering treatment and stopping people becoming unwell in the first place. The NHS Long-Term Plan is an ambitious blueprint which, if successful, could fix that imbalance for good.
This new strategy is called the ‘long-term’ plan for a reason: at a national level, the vision is bold, and the goals it sets out cannot be achieved overnight. The first step is arguably for us to change the way we think about healthcare; there will always be a need for hospitals and operations but there’s also a real opportunity here for us to think creatively about why we as a society spend so much money responding to surges in avoidable health conditions after they have been diagnosed. Clinical commissioning groups were set up with the explicit job of using the clinical leadership of GPs to plan ahead when they design healthcare services, identifying trends or areas of concern before they implode into a public health crisis.
One such looming health crisis we are facing right now is diabetes. To be more specific, it’s a looming crisis of type 2 diabetes, which, as doctors have been arguing for decades now, is in many cases avoidable, or at least manageable, through spotting the risks early and providing the right health care immediately. In North West London, the NHS has been piloting a brilliant programme of work to fight diabetes at its root – and there are already some amazing results. Commissioners have even found ways to manage a patient’s type 2 diabetes into remission. Not only does this dramatically improve patient’s quality of life in the short term, but in the longer term, it saves the NHS potentially millions of pounds.
And that’s just one example. There are countless areas of health and social care that present to us exciting opportunities to do much more in the way of prevention and early management. Will it be easy? No. And nobody, certainly not in the NHS or local government, is pretending we have a magic wand that fixes the problem tomorrow.
But the main goals of the Long-Term Plan are things we should all welcome: I am looking forward to discussing with our local NHS partners how it will be taken forward in Brent. Perhaps what we can celebrate most is the commitment we increasingly see from NHS leaders in North West London to working together as partners, regardless of whether we see ourselves as NHS or as local authority, as physical or mental health workers, as providers or commissioners – and putting the needs of the patient first so that they can live healthier, happier lives.