I voted this morning. Like many others in the UK who return from the polling stations today, I’m waiting with interest to see the outcome of what looks to be one of the closest elections in years. Despite the current UK climate of voter apathy.
The political parties have been fiercely battling for support over the last six weeks but the manifesto issue that is likely to emerge as one of the biggest public purse challenges after the election is how to tackle the funding gap in the NHS.
The UK’s unique National Health Service is often seen as ‘the very fabric of British life’. It deals with more than a million patients every day and has a net expenditure of more than £110 billion, completely funded by taxpayers.
Yet the gap between required funds and available funds has been a political issue for years, and a growing one. Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, published the Five Year Forward View last September which said the NHS will be facing a £30bn deficit by 2020. Of that, £8bn would need to come from taxes. Fortunately for many politicians, polls suggest the public would be happy to pay taxes to save the national treasure.
So when the dust settles and a new government is formed, what could the solution look like?
There has been remarkably little disagreement between the parties on health policies, perhaps the Five Year Forward View outlined the needs of the NHS so early in the process. All parties have committed to integrating health and social care from hospitals to community services as a key service and financial priority. Less central control of funding is often cited as a requirement to make that happen and in April 2016, Manchester will be the first region to get control of £6bn worth of health and social care budgets.
Nevertheless there are still outstanding questions which will need to be addressed by the new government, such as how will the £22bn worth of efficiencies be created? Particularly as 65%- 85% of NHS foundation trusts budget is spent on staff pay. And how and when will the £8bn additional funding be implemented? With four in five English hospitals and half of all provider trusts in debt, experts say that the funding needs to come into effect almost immediately.
Whichever way the votes go, and whoever ends up in power, what’s certain is the NHS will be going through unprecedented change in the coming few years. Which means healthcare companies will need to change their approach to selling into the NHS environment too, and communications that reaches the right audiences will have to adapt to suit.
I just marked X on a piece of paper in a few seconds this morning, but the implications for healthcare provision in the UK will be much longer-lasting.