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Times Health Commission lays out 10-step plan to create a ‘healthier Britain’

A new report by The Times Health Commission has made 10 recommendations to reform the NHS and create a ‘healthier Britain’, including scrapping student loans for NHS staff and introducing patient passports.

A new report by The Times Health Commission has made 10 recommendations to reform the NHS and create a ‘healthier Britain’, including scrapping student loans for NHS staff and introducing patient passports.

The report has been published following a year-long inquiry into the state of Britain’s health and social care system. It has been led by a panel of experts from across health and social care, who spoke to more than 600 witnesses including senior doctors, hospital managers and politicians.

Tony Gallagher, editor of The Times, has described the report as “one of the broadest inquiries into health ever held in Britain.”

Health leaders have welcomed the report’s findings and say it is crucial that the next government implements these long-term solutions to improve the health of the nation.

Health Commission calls for introduction of ‘patient passports’

The report has identified three core principles that underpin the findings. The commission says the UK needs a renewed focus on prevention and community care rather than hospital treatment, and that the social care system must be reformed to prevent overcrowding in hospitals.

Thirdly, the report calls for the NHS and social care system to “fully harness the transformative power of technology and data” to empower patients and doctors, introduce more choice and drive efficiencies.

Part of this plan to digitise the NHS includes the introduction of digital health accounts for patients, otherwise known as patient passports. Currently, there are between 40 and 60 different types of electronic patient records within the NHS, while around 10% of hospitals are entirely paper-based.

The “patient passport” would be accessed through the NHS app and could be used to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions, view test results, read referral letters and arrange social care. GPs, hospitals, paramedics, pharmacists and social care providers should all have access to the data when necessary to provide seamless care for patients, the commission says.

Roughly four in five (81%) of the public backed this key recommendation to introduce patient passports, according to YouGov polling, with nine in 10 (89%) agreeing patients should automatically be allowed to access their own medical records.

The BMA says while the notion of a patient passport “sounds convenient”, they warn that comprehensive safeguards around patient data would be necessary, and the NHS must ensure that the system does not exclude those who are not digitally engaged or literate.

Calls to scrap student loans for long standing staff

Addressing recruitment and retention problems across the NHS, the commission calls for student loans to be written off for doctors, nurses and midwives who stay in the NHS.

The commission says debt for healthcare professionals should be cut by 30% for those staying three years, 70% for seven years and 100% for 10 years.

The BMA has supported this recommendation but highlights that the report “sadly fails to make the obvious recommendation of restoring doctors’ pay, which would have a real impact on retaining clinicians.”

“Without this, any meaningful hopes of addressing the near record-waiting lists will be dashed,” says Professor Philip Banfield, BMA council chair.

To reduce the mammoth NHS waiting list, the report calls for new weekend high-intensity theatre lists for planned operations.

Again, the BMA has supported this recommendation in principle, but says the premium required to fund such activity “risks detracting from essential investment elsewhere”.

“Doctors are already exhausted after working beyond their hours all week, already spread too thinly,” Mr Banfield said.

NHS leaders say capital funding will be key to tackling challenges

The NHS Confederation has supported the key principles of the report but says the next government must also ensure it provides more funding for the health service.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: “One of the crucial ways that the productivity challenge can be addressed is by providing the NHS with the capital investment it needs, which has not been covered in this comprehensive report.

“Specifically, in England, capital funding needs to increase to at least £14.1 billion annually, a £6.4 billion increase from the current level of £7.7 billion. This is vital if we are to increase productivity and reduce waiting lists.”

Mr Taylor has also called for quicker access to mental health treatment, particularly for children, who are “much more likely to develop lifelong issues.” He acknowledges that with demand for services rocketing, “this is not an easy task.”

‘Doctors are the solution, not the problem’

The BMA is now urging the government to take heed of these recommendations and listen to the calls of those on the frontline.

“Ultimately, the ability to improve the state of the country’s health and services is bound by the Government’s will to act, and crucially, invest. This change must come from listening to the doctors and colleagues that give their all on the front line every day. We are the solution, not the problem.”

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