NHS at the heart of the next programme for government

·3 min read

The Prime Minister has put repairing the NHS following the Covid pandemic at the heart of the next programme for government.

The Queen’s speech to officially reopen parliament included an NHS “catch-up and recovery plan” detailing the “unprecedented challenge” now facing the health service, which includes 4.7 million people in England waiting for care and more than 380,000 waiting more than a year for treatment.

As well as a commitment to clearing the backlog, the Government has pledged to “account for the returning demand of those people who have not come forward for care during the pandemic”.

It wants to persuade these “missing referrals” to see their GP to find undiagnosed conditions, including cancer.

As announced in March, an extra £7 billion of funding for healthcare services, including £1 billion to address the backlogs that have built up in planned care, has been set aside to continue tackling the challenges brought about by Covid-19.

This takes NHS Covid funding to £92 billion, with £63 billion this year and £29 billion next year.

In the plans, some £325 million will be spent on improving diagnostics equipment to help improve detection and treatment of conditions such as cancer.

The briefing accompanying the speech said there was a continued need to “remain vigilant, maintain appropriate infection prevention and control, and be mindful of the risk from potential future waves” of Covid-19, but added: “Now more than ever the Government will back the NHS.”

The briefing document sets out how the Government is planning a potential booster vaccine campaign in the autumn to protect the vulnerable against Covid.

It said: “Over the longer term, regular boosters are likely to become a regular part of managing Covid-19.”

Measures will also be brought forward to support the health and wellbeing of the nation, including tackling Britain’s obesity problem.

A new incentive scheme called Fit Miles will look at paying people to eat better and exercise more while there will be more support for GPs to help people lose weight.

The Government has already said it will restrict promotions on high fat, salt and sugar food and drinks in retailers from April 2022, and will introduce a ban on junk food adverts before 9am on TV, alongside a total ban online.

Furthermore, the Government will bring in legislation to require large out-of-home sector businesses with 250 or more employees to put labels on the food they sell with calorie totals.

When it comes to mental health, the Government has already pledged to reform the process for detention and give people better support to challenge detention if they wish.

Reforms will also seek to address the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained under the Mental Health Act.

As already announced, the Government will invest an extra £2.3 billion a year in mental health services by 2023-24, so that two million more people will be able to access mental health support.

A one-off targeted investment of £500 million is aimed at supporting people over the next year who have suffered poor mental health through the pandemic.

In her speech, the Queen further set out plans for the previously announced Health and Care Bill, which Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said will see “different parts of the NHS joining up more seamlessly”.

The Bill aims to reduce bureaucracy, with one example being that the NHS will only need to tender services when it can lead to better outcomes for patients – rather than current compulsory competitive tendering.

The Queen said: “My ministers will bring forward legislation to empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology.

“Patients will receive more tailored and preventative care, closer to home.”

According to the briefing, one aim of the Bill is to give the NHS and local authorities “the tools they need to level up health and care outcomes across the country, enabling healthier, longer and more independent lives”.