At the general election, politicians must rally around a 'next generation NHS'

Saffron Cordery profile picture

11 May 2024

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive
NHS Providers


We don't know yet when a general election will take place but one thing is certain – the NHS will feature large in the political battle of ideas.

We need a frank and honest debate about the future of the NHS.

More than one in three people (35%) are concerned about the NHS according to a recent Ipsos poll, almost neck-and-neck with the economy as a top concern. Public satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time low, hit by people's experience of the relentless pressure on GPs, hospitals, ambulances and mental health and community health services. The NHS is facing some of the toughest conditions yet as it seeks to manage rising demand and complexity.

But public support for the fundamental principles of the NHS remains rock-solid.

In A picture of health: delivering the next generation NHS trust leaders set out a vision of how government and health services can work together to maximise the social and economic value of the NHS.

The NHS is the keystone in the health of our nation. A healthy economy relies on a healthy population, and NHS spending is good for growth. Every £1 spent on healthcare returns £4 in increased productivity and employment.

To help realise those benefits and to navigate the years ahead, leaders of trusts across England have set out a pre-election prescription for the 'next generation' NHS.

This is designed to champion and protect the NHS while reflecting the challenges it faces, highlighting five shared commitments for politicians and health service leaders. We can create a national picture of health by working together. We need to: reaffirm commitment to the core values of the NHS to improve health and care for all and reduce inequalities; build a new infrastructure programme for the NHS; nurture a thriving health and care workforce; champion a culture of openness, improvement and innovation; and provide care in the right place at the right time.

Demand for health and social care services is increasing and becoming more complex as providers and staff work tirelessly to give patients safe, effective care in challenging circumstances.

The plan shows how joined-up action with government can create a healthy, equitable and productive society for years to come. Politicians must take responsibility not just for treating sick people but commit to supporting the overall health of an ageing population, with cross-government action and accountability.

People are the backbone of the NHS. Today there are more than 110,000 jobs across the NHS in England unfilled. We must ensure that the NHS recruits and retains people with the right skills and in the right places, equipped with the modern facilities and technologies that they need to deliver high-quality, safe care. NHS staff need support and positive workplace cultures to provide the best possible experiences and outcomes for patients.

Current capital allocations aren't enough to cover the cost of safety-critical repairs to NHS estates and equipment with an £11bn-plus backlog of essential work waiting to be done. We need to widen access to strategic capital investment and enable trusts to use the money they already have by increasing national capital departmental expenditure limits (CDELs).

Actions which government and the NHS must take together include also prioritising an open, learning culture across the healthcare system to improve safety and quality of care and investing in the skills needed for continuous improvement. Trusts working with integrated care systems are well placed to play a strategic convening role, supporting development and provision of services right for the communities they serve.

We must rally around our 'next generation' NHS, one which serves the population as it is now and will be rather than as it was when founded in 1948. An NHS which is agile in deploying its people, its resources, its partnerships, its technology. An NHS which is responsive to health needs but which is not solely responsible for them. An NHS which wins the trust of the people it serves, which helps drive national productivity and excellence, and which government and parliament can robustly hold to account and endorse.

While we wait for the general election starting gun to be fired, then after the drama of election night is done and the TV crews have packed up and gone, we urge politicians to work hand in hand with us, with patients and communities at the heart of the conversation, to create the picture of health we all want to see.

This opinion piece was first published by Politics.co.uk.

About the author

Saffron Cordery profile picture

Saffron Cordery
Deputy Chief Executive
@Saffron_Policy

Saffron has been NHS Providers deputy chief executive since 2018, and between June 2022 – February 2023 was interim chief executive. She has worked in the healthcare sector since 2007.

Saffron has extensive experience in policy development, influencing and communications, and was previously head of public affairs at the Local Government Association. Her early career focused on influencing EU legislation and policy development, and she started working life in adult and community education.

She has a degree in Modern Languages from the University of Manchester and is a trustee of GambleAware and recently became co-chair at Agenda Alliance. Read more