Lack of long-term planning for NHS and social care criticised by senior church leader

The Government’s refusal to set up an independent body to help plan for the long-term future of the NHS and adult social care has been branded “perfunctory and inadequate” by a senior church leader.

Criticising the lack of vision for the under-pressure health system, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said the value of such an agency was “blindingly obvious” and described the response by ministers as “deeply disappointing”.

The creation of an Office for Health and Care Sustainability, likened to the fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility, had been a key recommendation of a Lords select committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS and adult social care.

But Health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said the Government believed it would increase cost and be “duplicative” – although he hinted it could be established independently outside government.

In its conclusions, the committee highlighted a “culture of short-termism” in the NHS and adult social care.

The committee said a new political consensus on the future of the health and care system was “desperately needed”.

Speaking during a Lords debate on the report, the bishop, who sat on the committee, stressed the need for a long-term view.

He told peers: “We need to be looking at 15 or even 20 years ahead and at present that is simply not happening.”

Opening the debate, committee chairman Lord Patel, a former consultant obstetrician, believed a “real celebration” to mark the forthcoming 70th anniversary of the NHS would be “a political consensus”.

Calling on the Government to take the lead, he said: “The Prime Minister’s legacy would then be the delivery not just of Brexit but, importantly, sustainable health and social care.”

But opposition health spokesman Lord Hunt of Kings Heath cautioned “about the desire to create a cross-party approach”.

Warning that decisions on health and social care “cannot be offshored”, he added: “In the end, you need a Government with the political will to make the investment necessary, put in place a plan to fix staffing and properly support people to manage their own health care and conditions for the long term.”

Tory former health minister Lord Prior of Brampton, who was part of a review that found the annual cost of the NHS would rise by £50 billion by 2030, argued the need for a long-term settlement so that people in the NHS could plan for the future.

Lord O’Shaughnessy welcomed the committee’s “excellent and far-sighted report” and apologised for the delay in the Government’s response.

He said the Government had committed extra funding to the NHS and acknowledged the need to move away from “annual top ups towards a sustainable long term plan”.

On the calls for political consensus, Lord O’Shaughnessy said he was not sure about the need for another Royal Commission when leadership was required.

He hoped the Labour party would join with the Conservatives in the process while accepting it needed political leadership from the Government to move forward.

The Government was committed to publishing a social care Green Paper by the summer setting out plans to tackle care and support for older people, he added.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.