By Nicolle Laurie, Consultant, London
The Queen’s Speech last week was a poignant moment for many, who were keen to see how a majority Conservative government would execute its first parliamentary session. The speech saw Bills in energy, childcare and education, however healthcare received no such honour; getting a fleeting mention.
The Queen said: “In England my government will secure the future of the National Health Service by implementing the National Health Service’s own five-year plan, by increasing the health budget, integrating healthcare and social care and ensuring the National Health Service works on a seven day basis. Measures will be introduced to improve access to general practitioners and to mental healthcare.”
Many parliamentarians and NHS professionals welcomed the fact that there was a repeated commitment to the NHS Five Year Forward View and an increase in NHS funding in England to £8 billion a year by 2020. However, there is growing concern about how exactly the government plans on paying for all the initiatives that the speech outlined; specifically in regards to a seven-day NHS. This promise of a 24/7 NHS was contained within the Conservative manifesto, and was the focus of David Cameron’s first speech since winning the general election.
It is, as yet, unclear as to how the government plans on funding this particular initiative, given the financial situation that the NHS faces and shortage of GPs. Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, speculated about this issue during a debate on the Queen’s Speech this week saying, “It would be utterly wrong to pay in part for seven-day working by removing the unsocial hours payment, and we will oppose any attempt by him to do that.” This adds to the criticism already received from NHS nurses who have threatened to strike if their pay is to be cut to accommodate a seven-day NHS.
The lack of detail following the NHS announcements in the Queen’s Speech has seemingly caused more speculation than answers. Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, during a debate on the Queen’s Speech, said: “I shall speak about the NHS and fully endorse the deep concerns of a number of noble Lords at how promises in the gracious Speech such as closer working integration, seven-day working and better access to GP and mental health services can be met in the light of the scale of the huge financial and quality challenges facing the NHS.”
David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt will be under growing pressure to explain exactly how they plan on paying for the NHS initiatives outlined in the Queen’s Speech. It will be interesting to see how he intends to give further funding to the NHS, whilst taking away funds from other departments.
To view a full copy of the Queen’s Speech please click here.