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Five things expected to dominate the healthcare headlines in 2024

It was a big year for healthcare in 2023. In this article, the team at Pavilion Health Today make some predictions about the biggest trends and issues for 2024.

It was a big year for healthcare in 2023 with industrial action dominating the headlines along with stories about staff shortages and burnout. Popular stories also centred around how a decade of underinvestment has left the NHS at breaking point.

Hopefully, 2024 will see more positive news. In this article, the team at Pavilion Health Today take a look at some of the healthcare trends we can expect this year and make predictions about what will dominate the headlines in 2024.

A general election in the autumn

It looks likely that 2024 will be an election year in the UK, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week giving his strongest indication yet that he will not call a general election until the second half of 2024.

The Conservatives have the legal right to wait until January 2025. Yet as no party has won five general elections in a row in the past century and recent figures show the party is trailing Labour by around 20 points, many analysts already predicted that the government would push the date as late as possible.


A 'Polling Station' sign outside village hall during a UK election.


According to polling by Ipsos, the NHS consistently ranks in the top three public concerns which means the NHS will be a political hot potato for much of this year. The Nuffield Trust says that the government will be looking with increasing urgency to fulfil their handful of key pledges to rebuild trust, while the opposition will weigh in regularly with new commitments and interventions, trying to credibly signal that it could lead a sudden recovery.

It says the five areas of health and social care that will be big election talking points include staffing, finance, general practice, social care and access to treatment and diagnosis.

The King’s Fund has a similar list and says the three priorities a future government will need to address include improving access to out-of-hospital care, making careers in health and social care more attractive, and tackling the biggest risk factors affecting people’s health.

During the election, both thinktanks will mark commitments and pledges against these areas.

Public satisfaction with the NHS in 2024

The Nuffield Trust says as it is the public who will decide the next government, public satisfaction with the NHS will be a key factor this year.

The 2022 British Social Attitudes Survey, released in March last year, found that public satisfaction in the NHS has fallen to just 29% – the lowest level since the survey began in 1983.

The main reasons people gave for being dissatisfied with the NHS were waiting times for hospital and GP appointments (69%), staff shortages (55%) and a view that the government does not spend enough money on the NHS (50%).

Those who were satisfied cited the reasons as: NHS care is free at the point of use (74%), the quality of care (55%) and the range of services and treatments available (49%).

Polling shows this issue, vying with the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, will be a defining factor on which voters will decide who controls the country.

A recent survey from the Health Foundation also found that around half of the public expect the general standard of NHS (54%) and social care (52%) services to get worse, while half (50%) think the public’s overall health and wellbeing will get worse.

Staff shortages and industrial action

Staffing was one of the reasons most cited for public dissatisfaction with both health and social care in the British Social Attitudes Survey. This was behind only the difficulty in accessing services themselves.

The NHS Confederation said that with staffing shortages as they are, the government must find a way to resolve the current impasse in talks with junior doctors. It said it was worrying that the survey was carried out before industrial action began last year, meaning that staffing shortages may be even more of a priority now for the public.

The NHS just entered its longest period of strike action in its 75-year history in what is usually the most pressurised week of the year. Many NHS trusts say they will be skating on the “thinnest of ice” due to winter pressures and a lack of key staff as junior doctors walk out for a total of 144 hours of uninterrupted stoppages.

This will lead to thin rotas and local services being placed in a highly vulnerable position. Rising levels of flu, norovirus and Covid-19 in hospitals, combined with higher NHS staff absences due to Covid-19, is heightening the risk.

Reports suggest that strikes still have public support. In September, Ipsos found that 53% of the public back the doctors – less than ambulance workers and nurses, but more than consultants, and more than striking workers in any other sector. A YouGov poll in September also found that voters blamed the government more than the BMA by a margin of 45% to 21%.

However, analysis from the Financial Times suggests that ongoing strike disruption by doctors this will test public support.

Although Rishi Sunak has previously said that the strikes are leading to bigger waiting lists, research by the Health Foundation in October found they were responsible for just a 3% increase. The BMA has argued that this suggests doctors are being scapegoated by the government for a far deeper problem.

Rise in artificial intelligence

According to Statista, the artificial intelligence (AI) healthcare market, valued at $11 billion in 2021, is projected to be worth $187 billion in 2030. Last year there was an influx of research studies that looked at the use of AI in detecting diseases or interpreting patient data.

With staff shortages on the rise, it is predicted that these technologies could soon become more widely available in doctors’ offices with virtual assistants and chatbots helping clinicians by providing advice on treatments, diagnoses, and medications. Healthcare organisations are also turning to automation and AI as a way of accelerating routine tasks to alleviate the burden on healthcare professionals.


Doctor holding electronic medical record on tablet, health technology, artificial intelligence (AI)

In October last year, the Prime Minister announced that £100 million in new government investment will be targeted towards areas where rapid deployment of AI has the greatest potential to create transformational breakthroughs in treatments for previously incurable diseases, such as helping find novel dementia treatments or develop vaccines for cancer.

The government will invite proposals bringing together academia, industry and clinicians to develop innovative solutions.

This funding will target opportunities to deploy AI in clinical settings and improve health outcomes across a range of conditions. It will also look to fund novel AI research which has the potential to create general purpose applications across a range of health challenges – freeing up clinicians to spend more time with their patients.

Prevention and wellness in 2024

Analysts suggest that there will be a huge shift this year from reactive to proactive approaches by healthcare providers in 2024. This includes exercise, wellness, and immunisations. A review by Forbes has shown that it can create long-term benefits for patients, as well as reduce the costs associated with treating preventable conditions.

Technological advances, including AI and wearable technology, will also play a major role here, enabling early warning and rapid intervention.

The Health Foundation said that the government’s recently published framework for tackling long-term conditions acknowledges the need for strong action on prevention and inequalities, but a lack of ambition on policy is a major barrier to the administration achieving its own target. While Labour’s commitment to focus on the wider determinants of health is welcome, more detailed plans and investment will be needed to make it happen.

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