“Addiction to short-termism” puts NHS future at risk, warns top think-tanks

credit: time

As the NHS turns 75, three leading health and care research institutes have issued a stark warning that continued quick political fixes to address complex and long-standing issues – from NHS buildings to social care – will risk the NHS not being able to reach its centenary.

The Chief Executives of the Health Foundation, Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund have written to the leaders of the three largest political parties in England, calling on them to make the upcoming general election a decisive break point, by ending years of short termism in NHS policy-making. They warn that the alternative is “managed decline that gradually erodes the guarantee of safety in place of fear it was designed to create”.

The letter, sent to Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer and Ed Davey, states “75 years after its creation, the National Health Service is in critical condition. Pressures on services are extreme and public satisfaction is at its lowest since it first began to be tracked 40 years ago. Despite this, public support for the NHS as an institution is rock solid.”

The think tanks state that recovering NHS services and reducing waiting times for treatment should rightly be a key priority for any government. But they warn that promising unachievable, unrealistically fast improvements without a long-term plan to address the underlying causes of the current crisis is a strategy “doomed to failure”.

The joint letter highlights four key areas where long-term policies coupled with considered investment would help chart a path back to a stronger health service:

• Invest in the physical resources the NHS needs to do its job including equipment, beds, buildings and new technology.
• Deliver long overdue reform of adult social care
• Commit to a cross-government strategy over the course of the next parliament to improve the underlying social and economic conditions that shape the health of the nation
• Build on the recently published NHS long term workforce plan with sustained commitment to providing the resources it needs to succeed

The think tank chiefs write:

“For the public, the NHS remains the jewel in the country’s crown, even if it is losing its shine. The next government will face a choice between providing the investment and reform needed to preserve the NHS for future generations or continuing with short termism and managed decline that gradually erodes the guarantee of safety in place of fear it was designed to create.
“Persisting with the current addiction to short-termism and eye-catching initiatives will risk the health service being unable to adapt to the huge challenges ahead and reach its centenary. It is time to move away from quick fixes and over-promising what the NHS can deliver and give it the tools it needs to succeed.”

Frank Young

Frank Young works for a leading Westminster think tank and is writing in a personal capacity