Theresa May and the head of the NHS have hinted the target of treating A&E patients within four hours could be scrapped.
The Prime Minister today launched a 10-year plan for the future of the health service, setting out ambitious new plans drawn up by the Government and NHS.
Speaking at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, Mrs May said leaving the EU will help fund the array of improvements.
The report, published today, breaks down how the £20.5billion a year promised by Mrs May will be spent until 2029, with claims it will save 500,000 lives in that time.
She yesterday refused to say the money would cut A&E waiting times, before today adding that health chiefs will ‘look at’ existing targets in hospital.
NHS England chief Simon Stevens also hinted the target of treating 95 per cent of patients within four hours could be rubbished altogether.
The plan has instead taken aim at the big killers heart disease, cancer and dementia and pledged to use more technology and DNA testing for diagnosis and treatment.
The Prime Minister said ‘strong public finances’ and not sending ‘vast annual sums to Brussels’ will finance the NHS of the future.
But critics have today attacked the long-term plan. Labour said the ambitions were ‘big and bold’ but weren’t feasible because of a staffing crisis.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced the launch of the NHS’s 10-year plan at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool this afternoon, where she said not sending ‘vast annual sums to Brussels’ would help to finance the NHS of the future (pictured, Mrs May with NHS staff, Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) and NHS chief executive Simon Stevens)
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the hospital this morning as Mrs May arrived for the much-awaited announcement.
The Prime Minister said today marked ‘an historic occasion’ and would ‘secure the health service for generations to come’.
Mrs May commissioned the plan last year after pledging to spend an extra £20.5bn per year on healthcare by 2023/24.
It was due to have been published in December – but was delayed because of work on Brexit.
The first of that rise, an expected £6bn to add to the current budget of around £115bn, will be seen in the next financial year.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens implied there may soon be less pressure on hospitals to treat minor injuries.
He criticised the blanket waiting time target which requires hospitals to see, treat and discharge or admit 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours of their arrival.
‘[The current set of standards] doesn’t distinguish between turning up at A&E with a strained finger or turning up with a heart attack,’ Mr Stevens said.
Mrs May met staff and patients at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, where she spoke at midday to announce the official plan for ‘the NHS of the future’
WHAT HAVE CRITICS SAID ABOUT THE 10-YEAR PLAN?
The 10-year plan has been hugely anticipated since Theresa May last year pledged to spend an extra £20.5bn per year by 2023/24.
But critics have today slammed the report, unveiled by The Prime Minister during a trip to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Good Morning Britain: ‘We don’t have the staff to deliver the big bold ambitions we’re delivering.
‘The Government doesn’t have a clue how they’re going to deliver the extra staff and nurses we need. Look again at the funding and give us the staff we need.’
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘The long term plan has undoubted strengths…
‘So it’s highly unfortunate that failures outside the plan itself mean that on its own it cannot safeguard the future of the health and social care system.’
She added: ‘The serious and growing shortages in the health and care workforce are a major threat, and could even make the plan undeliverable.
Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, asked ‘why on earth is there no mention of staffing issues in today’s long-awaited plan?’
She added: ‘The NHS has a staffing black hole of 100,000 people big – it’s the single biggest crisis facing our health service.
‘How does the Government expect to deliver everything promised in the plan if there are no staff to deliver the services?’
Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, said: ‘This long-overdue plan barely scratches the surface of the huge challenges facing the stretched NHS.
‘While it offers a glimmer of hope for future improvements in cancer care, the promised changes are impossible to deliver without first tackling the ongoing workforce crisis.’
RNIB said it was ‘not convinced’ there was enough focus on eye health, including a lack of capacity at eye clinics.
Helen Lee, the charity’s eye health policy manager, said: ‘Timely treatment for eye conditions is critical when it comes to preventing avoidable sight loss.’
The Royal College of Nursing said the plan was ‘undoubtedly the right direction’ – but argued it was ‘strange’ that it offered no money for nurses to develop the skills patients need.
‘So what senior doctors are telling us is that they think the standards should focus particularly on those major conditions – that’s things like sepsis, heart attack and stroke.’
He implied people with conditions not life threatening could be subject to longer waits as a result. A review is currently being done into emergency care.
The NHS as a whole has not met the target of treating 95 per cent of patients within four hours since 2014, figures show.
After her visit to Alder Hey, Mrs May praised the ‘outstanding kindness’, ‘first class medical care’ and ‘dedication’ shown by staff.
And in her speech she admitted the NHS had been ‘slipping’ when trying to meet its targets, and said improvement was needed.
Mrs May said: ‘We’re actually seeing the NHS treat more people. We’re actually seeing the NHS deliver services and care to more people.
‘As more people are being treated the demand has outstripped that, so we have been slipping against the targets.
‘We do need to see efforts in terms of performance and improving that performance.
‘But what the long-term plan is about is saying actually what are the right sort of targets that should be set for the future?’
Saying any update on targets would have to be based on ‘clinical evidence’, she added: ‘We’ve agreed NHS leaders can look at that question.’
Among the highlights of the plan are digital GP appointments for all, exercise and healthy living programmes for 100,000 people a year, and interventions for drinkers.
In her speech Mrs May claimed Brexit would free up more money to be spent on the NHS, drawing scepticism and echoes of the infamous red bus in the referendum campaign.
She said: ‘This commitment is possible because of our strong public finances and because, as we leave the EU and take back control of our money, we will no longer be sending vast annual sums to Brussels.’
Afterwards, the Prime Minister was asked whether her claim was accurate considering Government forecasts the UK economy will be poorer after leaving the EU.
She said: ‘No… We currently send significant sums of money to the EU every single year – in future that money will be available for us to spend on our priorities.
Mrs May said in her speech spending more money on mental health care to put it on a par with physical health was one of her six top priorities – the plan shows an extra £2.3bn a year will be spend on people’s mental health
The NHS 10-year plan was launched today, on politicians’ first day back after Parliament’s Christmas recess – the plan was expected to be published in December but was delayed because of negotiations related to Brexit
WHO HAS WELCOMED THE PLAN?
The King’s Fund said the ambitious plan is a ‘significant step forward’ but warned there are a ‘number of questions that remain unanswered’.
Richard Murray, its chief executive, added that trade-offs and difficult choices lie ahead because a few decisions – including hospital waiting times – have been postponed.
Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, said: ‘This plan offers a hugely exciting vision for the future of the NHS.’
The Royal Society for Public Health praised the plan – but spoke of how even ‘the best laid plans can go to waste if not backed up by sufficient funding’.
Mark Rowland, chief executive at the Mental Health Foundation, praised the new commitments to mental health.
He said: ‘It is good to see an NHS plan that looks beyond the political cycle and towards what is best for the health of our nation.’
The British Psychological Society said the plan shows the Government ‘has been listening’ – but also slammed the ‘chronic’ staff shortages.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said the £2.3billion ring-fenced investment fund for mental health will ‘alleviate severe pressures’.
And Hilary Evans, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the long-term plan works towards ‘overcoming the challenge dementia presents today’.
Diabetes UK said it was ‘exciting news and presents a massive opportunity to improve the lives of people with diabetes and those at risk of type 2 in the future’.
‘And clearly, as I’ve set out, the NHS is our key spending priority.’
Local Labour MP, Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), told The Mirror: ‘It is beyond parody that the Prime Minister has the audacity to claim that Brexit benefits our NHS, standing in a hospital that was built using over £50 million of financing available to the UK because of our EU membership. Access to this funding is vital.’
The Mirror today revealed Alder Hey hospital received £56million from the EU when it was renovated in 2013. That funding channel will be cut off once Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.
Mrs May used her speech to say she was pleased to see her six priorities for the health service were reflected in the plan drawn up by health chiefs.
These included reducing variation across NHS organisations so ‘world class care’ reaches all patients; better support and recognition for staff, the ‘lifeblood’ of the service; greater use of technology; and more mental health support than ever.
By 2029, the NHS hopes changes made as a result of today’s plan will mean 85,000 fewer people die each year from preventable causes.
Illnesses in the firing line include childhood cancers, top killers heart disease and dementia, and public health nuisances alcohol and tobacco.
Each year DNA sequencing will be offered to around 1,800 children with cancer or rare genetic conditions to develop more personalised medicines.
Doctors will also carry out testing to identify patients with dangerously high levels of cholesterol caused by genetics.
And the latest artificial intelligence technology will be brought in to better diagnose when patients have suffered a stroke – to ensure they get the right treatment quickly.
Increasing use of technology was also one of Mrs May’s priorities, and computers with artificial intelligence will be used to help treat and diagnose people who have had heart attacks, strokes or are at risk of developing dementia
Mrs May said today was ‘an historic occasion’ and the ‘record’ investment she promised would ‘secure the health service for generations to come’
The 10-year plan has set out ambitions to improve maternity care, including hiring more nurses and specialist staff, in order to ‘make the UK the best place in the world to give birth’
At the same time, digital GP consultations – on smartphones or tablets – will be made available to everyone who wants them as officials try to slash long waits for appointments.
Preventing ill health in the first place will also be key to reducing pressures on the NHS, leaders say, with patients encouraged to adopt healthier lifestyles.
Exercise and healthy living programmes will be rolled out to 100,000 people with heart complaints, potentially saving 23,000 people from dying prematurely.
Hospital staff will be told to target problem drinkers, offer counselling to patients who are smokers and encourage those at risk of type 2 diabetes to take preventative action.
Health bosses also want to diagnose three quarters of all cancers in the early stages when they will still respond well to treatment – the figure is currently 50 per cent.
Britain’s survival rates for cancer are among the worst in Europe, with late diagnosis needlessly costing thousands of lives a year.
Tens of thousands more doctors and nurses have been promised to alleviate current shortages, although a full workforce plan won’t be revealed until later this year.
HOW WILL THE PLAN SAVE LIVES? THE AMBITIONS IN NUMBERS
The NHS and Government say their new 10-year plan will save up to 500,000 extra lives over the next decade.
This is how they hope to do it:
- Using more high-tech treatments and diagnostic testing, including computers with artificial intelligence, to prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases
- Putting 100,000 people with heart complaints through healthy living and exercise programmes every year, with a view to preventing 23,000 premature deaths
- Improving diagnosis to catch 75 per cent of all cancer cases ‘early’ while they’ll still respond well to treatment – the figure is currently 50 per cent
- DNA testing for around 30,000 people who have dangerously high cholesterol due to genetic causes
- Investing an extra £4.5bn a year in primary and community care, reducing pressure on hospitals
- Investing an extra £2.3bn a year in mental health services and giving help to an two million more people suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health problems