Health and social care secretary Thérèse Coffey has outlined an NHS ‘plan for patients’ designed to help tackle the post-Covid backlogs, long waiting times and difficulties in accessing primary care.
However, the plan makes no mention of the potentially important role that occupational health professionals could play.
Under the ‘Our Plan for Patients’, Coffey, who is also deputy prime minister in the new Liz Truss administration, has set out an expectation that anyone who needs an appointment should get one at a GP practice within two weeks – and patients with the most urgent needs should be seen on the same day.
A £500m ‘adult social care discharge fund’ has also been announced, designed to unblock discharges from hospital beds into social care.
Intriguingly from an occupational health perspective, the plan has argued for an enhanced role for community-based health professionals – and the plan has highlighted pharmacists in particular – to deal with more minor ailments.
The plan states: “We will expand the range of services available from community pharmacies, increasing convenience for patients and freeing up GP time for more complex needs of patients. Pharmacists will be able to manage and supply more medicines, without a prescription from a GP.
“We will look to go further on enabling pharmacists with more prescribing powers and making more simple diagnostic tests available in community pharmacy.”
The plan also discusses the important role of preventative healthcare, including encouraging more home blood pressure monitoring and prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
However, while any action to reduce record waiting lists and times will undoubtedly be welcomed by occupational health professionals, the plan itself does not appear to have recognised the important role the profession could play in supporting and enhancing care.
Workplace-based or funded healthcare provision or access to occupational health is not mentioned once in the plan.
The plan’s only nod to work and health is when it says: “We will support people to start, stay and succeed in employment to benefit both the individual directly and the wider economy through increased labour market participation and productivity.”
Given that the profession is still waiting to see tangible progress on the government’s workplace health reforms – but a reform programme led first by the Theresa May administration and then Boris Johnson’s government – the omission of occupational health from the latest plan may concern the profession.
Coffey said of the plan: “Patients and those who draw on care and support are my top priority and we will help them receive care as quickly and conveniently as possible.
“That is why we are publishing Our Plan for Patients, which will help empower and inform people to live healthier lives, while boosting the NHS’ performance and productivity.
“It sets out a range of commitments for our health service, ensuring we create smoother pathways for patients in all parts of health and care,” she added.
Politically, the plan has also come under attack, with Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting highlighting that Labour in 2014 brought in a patient ‘right’ to see a GP within 48 hours, “until the Conservatives scrapped it”.