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by GK Strategy 5th July, 2016

Short term stability for the NHS?

As our friends across the Atlantic spent yesterday celebrating their independence from the UK, today we celebrate our own piece of history – the birth of the NHS. Now 68 years old, whilst many will look back on the remarkable achievements our health service has made, others will be more concerned with what the future holds. Faced with a series of challenges – financial instability, calls for efficiency savings, restructuring arrangements and an ageing and growing population – the service itself has little time to reflect on past glories.

In one of the finest examples of false hope since the England team boarded their plane to France, the infamous £350m a week of extra funding promised for the NHS in the event of Brexit turned out to not to be true after all – much to the dismay of many who voted Leave. The reality of what leaving the EU means to our health service is starting to seep in, with the future of the thousands of EU national employees in the NHS now uncertain, at a time of severe staff shortages across the health and social care sectors. The fact that 11% of the doctors qualified to practice in the UK qualified from the EU and the 3 other members of the single market, and 25% of those outside of Europe highlights the scale of the issue. What’s more, stories of foreign NHS staff facing racist abuse have added to the sour tone of the fallout, leading to chief executives and health leaders calling for staff to ensure that their colleagues are valued and treated with the respect they deserve.

NHS England’s Chief Executive Simon Stevens has sought to dampen the hysteria, whilst acknowledging the Brexit vote causes great uncertainty to the health service. In a letter to the entire NHS workforce, Simon Stevens stated considerations now have to be taken on the movement and regulation of health professionals, procurement rules, medicines and devices, cross-border patient entitlements and public health measures. A new NHS Europe Transition Team will be working with the Cabinet Office and DH to ensure a “smooth as possible path” for post-EU structures. Stevens’ session at the Health Select Committee on July 19th will certainly be worth tuning into, as he sets out his core “asks” ahead of Brexit negotiations.

With the Conservatives and Labour carrying out live episodes of House of Cards almost every day, Stevens has made it clear that NHS England has its head down and is looking to avoid the drama by sticking to his plans. Stevens reiterated that the core aims of stabilising frontline finances and performance for 2016/17; implementing national improvement programmes for primary care, urgent and emergency care, cancer, mental health, learning disability, maternity, and diabetes prevention; and establishing the Sustainability and Transformation Plans will continue, despite the Brexit uncertainty.

This combination of practical work for the immediate future and long-term plans for improvement is welcomed, but the exact nature of Brexit implications will certainly have to be taken into account.

“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”, Nye Bevan said. The fight goes on.

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