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The NHS Long Term Plan: commentary so far

Today, NHS England’s heavily anticipated Long Term Plan was finally published, following a classic government body delay. The launch, which took place at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool, naturally stimulated lots of reaction from across the NHS, wider healthcare sector and media outlets. This is a round up of the best opinion, commentary and summary pieces we’ve read today.

The HSJ has provided full coverage of the Long Term Plan (£), with highlights including increased ICS coverage, mental health improvements and a nationwide rollout of digital first primary care.  Alternatively, you can read the BBC’s ‘NHS plan: what it means for you’.

HSJ’s Lawrence Dunhill called the Long Term Plan a “short term fix”, although he did say that the new funding and financial rules are more positive and realistic than what has come before, and that there was a clearer focus than 2014’s Five Year Forward View. Dunhill expressed concern, however, that “huge questions” remain over longer term financial sustainability and the extent of improvement that can be delivered.

The King’s Fund described the Long Term Plan as “ambitious” and praised the focus on improving services outside of hospitals and prioritising integration, prevention and personalised care. They note, however, that significant decisions are missing or postponed – such as hospital waiting times, workforce shortages plan and social care. To summarise, The King’s Fund said there “should be no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead”.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards commented on the Long Term Plan, saying that the goals “look right” and the “level of ambition is good” but he was concerned over the difficulty of rolling out such changes, as the “funding will actually be below the historic average” and Brexit could “stop progress dead in it’s tracks”. The “biggest obstacle of all”, he said, “is the lack of key staff… with calculations showing a shortfall of 250,000 by 2030”.

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickinson said the plan “looks set to promise a host of improvements… and a greater use of digital technology and emphasis on prevention”. He also commented, however, that the Government “must find a solution to the social care crisis that has seen thousands of people no longer receiving the care and support they need, “and that “failure to address these issues will continue to place significant extra pressure on front-line NHS services”. Dickinson’s thoughts were echoed by NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, who called for a “ruthless prioritisation and effective implementation… rapid solution to current workforce shortages” and a resolution to issues “central to the success of the NHS” such as social care and public health.

BBC health editor Hugh Pym noted an improvement in detailed commitments compared to 2014’s Five Year Plan, saying “Ministers seem to have realised that grand strategy does not cut much ice with patients who simply want to know how treatment of their conditions will improve”. However, like others Pym says that big unanswered questions remain – including those around workforce shortages, funding sufficiency and realistic targets.

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