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Doctor

No longer just a winter crisis

The NHS cannot afford to ignore social care any longer – but adding the phrase to Jeremy Hunt’s job title is not a solution, writes Joanne Harding

This is not just about ‘winter pressures’ – there is no such thing any longer. This time, the crisis in the health service is much more fundamental. The pressures are year-round. That is why the labour movement needs to have some serious grown-up discussions about the way we continue to a fund a health and social care system fit for the 21st century.

I love the National Health Service, as we all do. If not for a health service free at the point of need; delivering high-quality treatment, both my daughter and my mum would not be here today.

But we must face up to the challenges of a growing elderly population, the dislocation between health and social care, genuine parity between the treatment of physical and mental health, and the increasing cost of tackling these issues. We must put pragmatism before passion, common sense before sentiment.

This is not to let this Tory government off the hook. Jeremy Hunt now has the added responsibility of adult social care and Labour must press him for some real solutions.

And it is not just about the money. Anyone who has received treatment recently knows that there is much more to it than that. The NHS that was born in my back yard in 1948 is out of date. The culture needs to change, integration is long overdue; prevention needs much more emphasis.

If the NHS is to survive it has to flex and adapt to meet the needs of the population today and in the future. Hospitals should not be ‘king’– we should be striving to ensure fewer people go to hospital, and they only go when absolutely necessary.

We should not focus just on hospitals. We must really invest money, time and commitment to primary care, prevention and public health – historically the poor relation.

If we do not focus on keeping people well, as opposed to treating them when they are ill, we will always face the same problems. The benefits of regular exercise, social contact; community support would all pay dividends if we changed our focus from illness to wellness.

And we do need to sort out the money. Labour has been hypothesising for decades, without ever reaching a conclusion.  I believe a tax for health and social care must be explored as a sensible option for future funding.

We also need to examine what a sustainable workforce strategy looks like over the next 10 years. We rightly laud NHS staff for the role they play in treatment and recovery. They are the tabloid ‘angels’ – but social care staff are ignored, exist on the poorest pay and lack proper training and career development. We must value them in the same way.

People will always be stuck in hospitals if we do not change our approach. Building social contact to address isolation and loneliness, mental health, poor diet, drugs and alcohol, must be our priority.

The NHS will be 70 years old in July. As we celebrate its birthday, we should reflect on the words of Aneurin Bevan, father of the NHS: ‘Illness is … a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.’

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Joanne Harding is councillor on Trafford council and a member of the Progress strategy board. She tweets at @Joanne13Harding 

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Joanne Harding

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