NHS patients could be forced to pay for their bed and board in hospital within five years unless there is a cash injection into health services after the next election, according to NHS Confederation’s chief executive, Rob Webster.
In his first speech to the NHS Confederation’s annual conference, Mr Webster called on the major parties to commit to a 10-year settlement for the health service, with real terms increases over the period.
The plea comes after Simon Stevens, the new NHS chief executive, laid out plans for an expansion in community services to bolster the country’s small hospitals, and provide more care for the elderly.
Mr Webster said the vision was welcome, but said such changes would only become reality if they got the backing from politicians of all parties – and a long-term investment, including “pump-priming” to create new community services, which should ultimately save the NHS money.
“We face a really stark choice – if the next Government and the health service don’t face up to the challenges and embark on major reforms we could see an NHS which is stripped back to the basics within the next parliament,” warns Webster.
“It is becoming clear that radical changes are needed to reshape the NHS around the needs of patients – especially the elderly,” says Andy Jones, National Chair of the Hospital Caterers Association.
“Britain’s ageing population is its greatest challenge, and the most important question facing us is how do we best support older people, giving them the care and dignity they deserve.
“Let’s not forget, the NHS was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth, when it was launched by the then Minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, in 1948.
“It was based on three core principles: that it meet the needs of everyone; that it be free at the point of delivery and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay. These three principles have guided the development of the NHS over more than 60 years and remain at its core.”
However, the NHS Confederation is calling on all the major parties to make reform of the NHS a manifesto issue, and to prioritise reform of community and hospital services immediately after the election.
Mr Webster said that if health services continued with “business as usual” their options would simply be to ration healthcare – with longer waits, or more drugs and treatments denied or to force patients to pay towards their keep.
Pointing to what Mr Webster has identified as the “stark choice” that politicians and health officials face between reforming the system – or allowing it to enter decline, Andy concludes, “whilst the NHS Confederation’s stance could have an impact and help, this could create a two tier system, which we would not welcome. We must also remember some of those people in long term hospital stays who have had the state pensions stopped.
“What we need are assurances that the food element is ring fenced, to ensure that food and drink is embedded and recognised as an integral part of the recovery plan, and that food is also ring fenced against Cost Improvement programmes. But above all, allow the HCA and our like-minded partners to lead and set the agenda, as they have the knowledge which would reduce costs and improve service. This is the key objective, which we continue to campaign for.”