NHS England outlines scale of future public health challenges

The NHS has outlined the scale of some of the future public health challenges it is likely to face, including a combination of more people living longer with more complex conditions, rising costs while funding remains flat and rising expectation of the quality of care.

NHS England in July 2013 published what it termed a “call to action” for staff, politicians and the public to discuss how the NHS will meet future demand and tackle a looming “funding gap” that it estimated will grow to as much as £30 billion between 2013/14 and 2020/21.

In its report, The NHS belongs to the people: a call to action, NHS England argued that the service will need to change to meet future demands, including making the most of new medicines and technology.

NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson said: “We are facing demands, opportunities and investment unimaginable when the NHS was created in 1948.”

He urged the public, doctors and politicians “to have an honest and realistic debate about how they want their local NHS to be shaped”.

Against this backdrop, the role of employers and employer-funded or fast-track healthcare provision could well become more important.

When it came to tackling obesity, for example, the report stated that: “Working together with individuals, their families, employers and communities to develop effective approaches will be an extremely important task for the next generation of the NHS.”

Other key issues will be the ageing population – with more people likely to be working longer into older age – dementia, the rising costs of medicine, rising expectations and ever-tighter financial constraints on the country as a whole.

The NHS, Sir David argued, would need to become “a health service, not just an illness service”, with a greater focus on prevention.

“It is not just about investment; partnering with Public Health England, working with health and wellbeing boards and local authorities and refocusing the NHS workforce on prevention will shape a service that is better prepared to support individuals in primary and community care settings,” the report stated.

The aim is to work to develop ideas and potential solutions to these commissioning challenges over the next three to five years, as well as develop national plans “including levers and incentives” over the next five to 10 years.

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