Community services, primary care and social care must be at the heart of any long term plan for the health service, otherwise we risk piling even more pressure on hospitals and failing patients, their families and local communities, argues Matthew Winn.
We have variously heard in recent weeks from the chief executive of NHS, Simon Stevens, about his immediate priorities for the 10 year plan, the first indications of the new secretary of state’s own priorities for the health and care system, and also seen reports of cuts to NHS community services across the country.
Over the next few years we must plan to shift care, lift the pressure on acute hospitals and create a sustainable health and care system
The lists of priorities are as encouraging as the reports of wholesale cuts to community healthcare are depressing and the two seem to highlight a stark contradiction.
Over the next few years we must plan to shift care, lift the pressure on acute hospitals and create a sustainable health and care system by providing more care in people’s local communities, in people’s homes and in care homes.
A dramatic decline
The system needs to embark on the biggest transformation in years as the evidence is clear: the current health and care system cannot hope to meet the needs of our growing and ageing population, with its increased complexity and needs. The choice is radical transformation or gradual, but inexorable decline.
My concern and that of fellow Community Network members is that short term financial pressures will lead to rash decisions which mean that we are cutting the very services which will enable us to lift the pressures on our acute hospitals.
In reducing the current service model, we will also lose the skills and experience of our staff, which we will need to deliver more care in our communities over the coming years.
Integrated model: a requisite
Cutting in-reach teams which proactively support patients to leave hospital and get home quicker and failing to address social care support which keeps them there, is a false economy.
The Community Network is working closely with those colleagues who deliver acute hospital care, primary care, ambulance services and social care to put the case for investment and transformation of the whole system. We have also written to the chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement stressing the importance of an integrated community based model.
Cutting in-reach teams which proactively support patients to leave hospital and get home quicker and failing to address social care support which keeps them there, is a false economy
Importantly, the Community Network is also supporting calls for greater investment in social care services and a long term funding solution for adult social care.
We cannot lift the pressures on key NHS services without speaking up for social care. Otherwise we will watch on as social care budgets are further eroded, yet more care providers go to the wall and more people see the care packages they rely on collapsing.
Colossal verdicts underway
Over the next few months, the new secretary of state and the wider NHS leadership face some big decisions. The government must deliver the much-promised social care green paper and a sustainable settlement for adult social care which puts it on a firm footing and creates a vibrant care sector.
My colleagues and I within the Community Network are committed to playing our part, not only in shaping the plan, but also support in delivering the resulting blueprint.
We need to grasp the opportunity to deliver integrated health and care support in a fundamentally different way. We must ensure that short term financial cuts do not hamper our ability to deliver in years to come. Let’s plan with confidence that the 10 year NHS plan will be genuinely transformational and have integrated community and primary and social care at its core.