The NHS long term plan: the chance of a lifetime?

Quietly, beyond the reach of scurrilous headlines, a review of the way forward for the NHS is underway. Quietly – maybe too quietly – this goes on, away from the partisan shouting around Brexit and the various fights going on within the Labour and Conservative parties. Maybe there is a political consensus – a place of sensible consideration: that we have an important asset in our health service, but it cannot continue into the next 70 years as it has done with its first 70 years.

As with many of our public services, there is a need for some sort of reform. But rather than coming at the edge of an austerity sword, this long term plan is coming on the back of a promise of more investment (this is not to disregard that many would say that there is not enough being invested – but this situation is not the same as has been experienced by many public services, which have faced cuts without further investment).

However, within all these positive moves, there is the danger that that the same interest groups are served by the reforms, while others miss out. These interest groups are not necessarily ‘big business’, or the likes of the British Medical Association or large charities, all of which are bound to have a word to say. No, these interest groups are the ‘usual suspects’, those who are already engaged with the health system and the governance systems that exist. Of course, none of the aforementioned should be stopped from having a voice into the process of review. Instead, those who don’t normally speak up need to speak up and be heard.

This is an opportunity for us all to speak up for a health service that works for all of us. As the saying goes, elections are decided by those who turn up! Or in the case of this review, it’s the voice of those who speak that is heard.

There is an important role for voluntary and community groups here in speaking up for those who are seldom heard. These groups are represented in the health system by the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance .However, it is hard to speak up for those who can’t be bothered, or for those who are busy with work or running a home, or who struggle to find time to reply to a government consultation. This means that these groups might be unlikely to find health services that are convenient to their needs and availability – and so the cycle continues.

We need a change in our mind-sets as well as our services. The NHS has helped us live longer, but often this means merely existing longer, with ill-health. We are lonelier, with more mental health issues – as well as more long-term health conditions such as diabetes – than we have had in the past. Much of this cannot be fixed with medicine from the doctor, but has more to do with culture, community and the choices of individuals, families and society.

For 70 years, the NHS has tried to fix the health of the nation. Yes, we are living longer, but it is beyond the ability of the NHS to magically make us flourish with good health. That is the role of all of us in society, as well as the institutions that serve us. We have to involve ourselves in our own health and wellbeing and that of others – and that starts by making our voices heard in this long term plan.

So, have a go: spend a few minutes saying what you think is the way ahead for the NHS – have your say!