Jul 10, 2024

How will the general election affect the NHS?

By Jane Couper, CEO, Novello Healthcare

The wait for the general election is finally over, and we now know that Labour will carry the mantle for the next few years. But what changes will we see in the NHS and how will this impact on healthcare recruitment companies? 

I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last month and the short answer is, I don’t know! Who does?!

However, the best way to predict what will happen in the future is to look at what has happened in the past, so let’s do that briefly. 

It’s been 27 years since we last had a switch from the Conservative Party to the Labour Party. It was 1997 – Geri Halliwell was wearing her iconic Union Jack dress at the Brit Awards, Channel 5 was launched, Teletubbies hit our screens, the first Harry Potter novel was released and of course we lost the wonderful Diana, Princess of Wales. 

Tony Blair’s Labour Party won a landslide victory. The NHS was considered to be in a state of disrepair – the public’s confidence was low, more than a million patients were on the waiting list, there were too few staff and people were wondering if the NHS would survive – sound familiar? 

There were many actions taken in those first few years, including the creation of NICE and what is now CQC, the creation of primary care trusts and a recognition through a national strategy led by Tony Blair himself, that significantly more money was needed. 

In the second year of being in power, waiting lists actually increased but £2billion was redistributed and in 2000 the NHS Plan was released with new waiting time targets in place. By 2009 the net result was that we had the shortest waiting times for treatment in the history of the NHS. 

Back to now, and what can we learn from this? We know that labour has promised to reduce the waiting lists with an extra 2 million appointments per year. However it is inevitably more complicated than this. For this to be successful it will need changes across the healthcare system including primary care, bringing an end to industrial action and capital investment to help transform our NHS into something that resembles a system that can cope with the rising need for healthcare services. 

Transformation is never quick. It takes patience and dedication, and in the case of the NHS, thousands of people to drive that change with a shared vision. But history shows us that Labour have put the NHS at the forefront of their plans. They have reduced waiting lists before and I believe they can do this again. 

Of course they will need staff to achieve this, and there will be an increase in demand in permanent, contract and temporary staffing. The Long Term Workforce Plan published in June 2023 and updated in April 2024, is the first paper to acknowledge that the contingent workforce plays an important part in the NHS. It states an intention to reduce the reliance on international recruitment and agency – but not removal. This is a huge step forward. I believe that the determination to remove agency has damaged the opportunity to work collaboratively with suppliers in finding the right balance. There is a movement towards flexible working and self-employed workers in our society, accelerated by COVID, and a greater appreciation for work-life balance. Even the NHS, as big as it is, can’t break this trend and it would be better to embrace it than to continue to fight against it. There are opportunities to be had through the “train, retain and reform” approach that can work alongside a contingent workforce. 

For all those that sit in the supply chain, as Amanda Pritchard, CEO of NHS England states in the opening page to the Long Term Workforce Plan; ‘This plan belongs to all of us’. We have a duty to supply in an ethical and safe manner – this means using innovation to create a sustainable model for the supply of staffing for the NHS. We must be aligned with the Long Term Workforce Plan and help the NHS achieve it. It’s no longer enough to only focus on our own business plans – the world we live in demands more engagement, more collaborative working, innovation and a more purpose-driven approach. As the budgets increase to get waiting lists down, it’s imperative the NHS engages with companies that share in the mission of making our beloved NHS a service that can be used by our children, and our children’s children. 

For Sir Kier Starmer and Wesley Streeting, the challenges are enormous, but I sincerely hope that the words we have heard in the run up to the campaign and days following are followed up with action, so that our NHS can become a sustainable model that supports the needs of the British people for generations to come.

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