A Conservative Government doesn't mean business as usual in healthcare

The message of 'continuity' in healthcare proclaimed by the Conservatives does not mean communicators can afford to rest on their laurels.

The re-election of a Conservative Government with a narrow, but real, majority in Parliament has profound implications for the UK as a whole; in the healthcare sector the initial response appears overall to be one of muted relief.

The headline message here is continuity. Jeremy Hunt is back in the saddle as Secretary of State; the five-year reform plans already announced by Simon Stevens at NHS England now seem set to go ahead and with £8bn of extra spending in real terms promised by 2020, the needs identified by NHS leaders before the election as the minimum needed to keep its head above water will theoretically be met.

Arguably, for many the prospect of yet more fundamental organisational change, particularly in commissioning, if Labour had gained power (despite the fact that it may well have put even more money into the NHS) was too difficult a pill to swallow.

But that doesn’t mean that the next four years will be uneventful.

First and foremost the Secretary of State has to make those funding pledges real and move quickly to plug the growing black hole in NHS finances. Many Trusts are already bankrupt; most Clinical Commissioning Groups are facing demands for at least ten per cent efficiency savings and basic health services in many localities are creaking.

His response and that of the Department of Health will be a focus on increasing productivity. Work will accelerate on a wide swathe of projects, from replacing traditional primary care with "multispecialty community providers" to using technology to cut workforce costs.

In his reappointment speech he pointed to care outside of hospitals now being the place where "step change in services offered through GP surgeries, community care and social care" will take place.

The danger in this strategy will be a temptation (some see it as a certainty) to sanction further creeping privatisation and the encouragement of schemes that widen health and social care inequalities.

‘Productivity’ is not a word that sits well with many traditional NHS supporters both within and outside the organisation – to them it sounds very much like a cypher for ‘commercialisation’.

So for those believing that a rejection of change in Labour’s health proposals and the reaffirmation of ‘business as usual’ from the Conservatives would result in more certainty in healthcare, the reality looks likely to be almost the opposite situation.

The next four years are certain to be some of the most challenging ever seen in the history of the NHS and as communicators that means keeping up with events and a keen eye out for the unexpected.

Dr Martin Godfrey is managing director of 3 Monkeys Communications Health and Wellness, and a south London GP

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