Tag Archives: NHS

Why we can’t be daunted by the workforce challenge

The NHS employs around 1.5 million people (around 1.2 million of these in England), putting it in the unlikely company of McDonalds, the US Department of Defence and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as one of the largest employers in the world.  It’s perhaps no wonder then that workforce has always been one of the hardest questions for the NHS to tackle – how best to use 1.5 million people to deliver healthcare to a population of 64 million?  With the NHS seeming to constantly lurch from one crisis to another on workforce, is the question just too difficult to answer?  At Macmillan, we think it can’t be, and that starting with the cancer workforce could be a way to start unlocking some of the trickier questions around how to manage one of the world’s five largest workforces.

Since the announcement of the Independent Cancer Taskforce last January and the subsequent publication of the Cancer Strategy for England in July last year, the cancer community has been working hard to decide what cancer care should look like in the future.  We know that the number of people living with cancer is growing and that their complex and changing needs have to be addressed.  We know that care needs to be more personalised, and that improvements need to be made to patient experience right across the pathway.  But we also know that none of this can be achieved without the right workforce with the right skills in the right place.

At Macmillan, we understand just how important the workforce is to someone with a cancer diagnosis.  Workforce planning and its associated focus on capacity, skills-mix and retention, may sound fairly dry but the stories we hear from patients about the crucial role played by both the salaried and unsalaried workforce – from the consultant who diagnosed them, to the Clinical Nurse Specialist who supported them through treatment, to the volunteer who provided them with information and support – remind us why this is such a crucial part of delivering the ambitions set out in the Cancer Strategy for England.

But it also reminds us of why it is such a huge challenge.  The needs of the 2 million people currently living with or beyond cancer in England are complex and varied, and whilst many people with cancer have a positive experience of their care, too many people do not have the support they need.  Data shows us that there are gaps in key professions including Clinical Nurse Specialists and General Practitioners, and professionals across the health service are still hampered by organisational boundaries and silos.  Add into this mix the unprecedented financial challenges facing the NHS, the need to deliver the changes set out in the Five Year Forward View, and uncertainty around what impact the EU referendum result may have on the NHS workforce, and the challenge of developing a sustainable cancer workforce that is fit for purpose can seem a daunting prospect.

It is vital however that we don’t shy away from this challenge.  The Cancer Strategy for England recognised how integral workforce is, and included a number of recommendations, with the key one being that Health Education England should work with NHS England and other bodies to conduct a strategic review of the cancer workforce.  We believe that this is one of the most important recommendations in the strategy and offers a huge opportunity to think differently about what the cancer workforce needs to look like in the future.

The scope of this recommendation means that it will require the support of the whole cancer community to deliver.  That’s why earlier this year we worked in partnership with Cancer Research UK to bring together around 30 organisations including charities, professional bodies, Royal Colleges and Health Education England themselves, to discuss what the strategic review should look at.

The output of this event is a set of eight principles which those organisations, along with Macmillan and CRUK, believe should underpin the workforce review.  For example, principle one states that the review should look both at the current and future cancer workforce, whilst principle four states that the review needs to demonstrate how the workforce can be educated and supported to develop the right skills, training and behaviours to deliver high quality and compassionate care.  We believe that all of them are equally important, and all need to be considered if the review is to set out a meaningful vision for what the cancer workforce of the future should look like.  However, they should be just the start of the conversation and we’d like you to get in touch and tell us what you think – is there anything else that should be prioritised?

What ultimately underpins these principles is a shared consensus that there is an urgent need for change. We must be ambitious when thinking about when, where and by whom care is delivered.  It is no longer possible to plan for the future workforce by thinking soley about numbers of current professionals. We need to start with the needs of the patient and decide how the workforce can best meet the challenge, not just of a rising population but of a changing demographic with more and more people living with cancer as a long term condition (something which we highlighted in our report released earlier this month on how cancer care has changed over the last few decades).

Importantly, we also need to think about how strategic workforce planning should work in future.  A number of think tanks have highlighted the challenges around workforce planning in the NHS more widely, with data gaps and a lack of clear roles and responsibility in relation to workforce strategy being two key issues.  These challenges are all borne out in the current challenges facing the cancer workforce, and as cancer involves a wide variety of professions, specialisms and settings we believe it can be an effective test bed, with lessons that can be applied across the NHS.

At Macmillan, we’re excited about the opportunity to start tackling some of these big questions, and we’re inspired by the drive, commitment and consensus of the cancer community on this important issue.  If the Cancer Strategy is to make a real difference to the experience of individual patients by 2020, it is important that this momentum is retained and that workforce is at the heart of the Cancer Strategy implementation.  Over the next few months, we’ll be continuing to think about what the future workforce should look like, so why not get in touch and tell us what you think.

Rebecca Leech, Senior Public Affairs Officer

Contact: RLeech@macmillan.org.uk or NKennedy@macmillan.org.uk

@MacmillanPA

 

George Osborne

Five thoughts on what the Chancellor’s spending review means for people affected by cancer


1 December, 2015
James Shield, Senior Policy Analyst  |  @jshield
Victoria Woods, Senior Public Affairs Officer  |  @vgwoods

It was widely reported last week that George Osborne has committed billions of pounds of ‘extra’ money for the NHS over the next five years as part of his Comprehensive Spending Review. But what is the bigger picture for healthcare, social care and welfare, and what will the announcements mean for people affected by cancer?

1. Extra funding for the NHS is welcome – but it needs to be spent wisely

It is good to hear the government is investing in the NHS’s plan for the next five years, and that £3.8bn extra will go into the NHS next year; our creaking health service badly needs this money now.

But three quarters of England’s hospitals are now running a deficit, which by the end of the year is expected to hit £2bn. We have seen the impact of this pressure on frontline cancer services: cancer waiting time targets have now been missed for seven quarters in a row. In the short term, the extra money will help to plug the black hole in NHS balance sheets, which we hope will mean getting back on track with meeting existing targets.

It is now crucial that the government spends wisely and fully funds and implements the cancer strategy for England which will be transformational for cancer care. Although the cancer strategy was mentioned in the Spending Review, this was only to reiterate a commitment to implement the previously announced recommendations on a new 4-week target for diagnosis and improved diagnostic capacity through £300m in funding.

As we said in October, time is running out: by 2020, there will be half a million more people living with a cancer diagnosis in England than in 2015. The strategies and solutions to support this growing population and avoid further crises have been agreed – what we need now is action. Macmillan will continue to push for the cancer strategy to be implemented in full.

2. We often hear that to have a strong NHS we need a strong economy – but despite extra funding, the NHS is not receiving its fair share of the proceeds of growth

The Government has often said that we need a strong economy to have a strong NHS. The reverse is just as true – we need a strong NHS and a healthy population to have a strong economy. As the economy returns to growth, we should invest in the long-term health of the nation. But on the evidence we saw in the Spending Review, it looks as though health and social care funding are going in the opposite direction.

Billions of pounds of extra money is a big investment, but as the population ages, more treatments become available and more people survive diseases such as cancer, the demand for healthcare could still outpace funding. Even with the additional money, we are now mid-way through the longest decline in NHS funding as a percentage of GDP since the war:

What does this mean for cancer services? The picture is unclear: we don’t yet know how the NHS will use its funding allocation, and will find out more when NHS England’s plans are published in early 2016.

What we do know is that between 2010-2013 spending per cancer patient had already fallen by between 4-10% (the latest figures available).

It can be difficult to know whether healthcare funding necessarily leads to a healthier society, and not all high-spend health services get value for money, but there comes a point where it is clear that more could be done with additional funding, and this is true of cancer.

In comparison with the rest of the world, both our level of healthcare spending and our cancer survival rates fall short. Last week’s announcement means that over the next five years, the share of GDP the UK spends on the NHS will fall even further below European and OECD averages:

3. Cuts to public health and bursaries for nurses are counterproductive

We understand much of the extra £3.8bn for the NHS next year is in fact sourced from a 25% cut to the Department of Health’s non-NHS budget.

It is counterproductive that ‘extra’ NHS money is being sourced from cuts to public health (which includes cancer screening and smoking cessation clinics) and bursaries for student nurses. This precious investment should be used to drive genuine progress – instead, it is being used to paper over the existing cracks.

Local authorities’ public health budgets will also fall by an average of 3.8% in real terms each year. The public health ring-fence will be ‘maintained until 2017/18’, which implies it might not continue afterwards.

This means the Spending Review has failed to meet one of the ‘five tests’ set by the head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, for the Spending Review – to “make good on the public health opportunity”.

4. We’re still concerned about social care funding

Funding the health service is just one side of the coin. The needs of people living with cancer are often life-long, and many require non-medical support to get by.

We are concerned that continuing pressure on social care budgets means that extra funding given to the NHS could end up being spent propping up a cash strapped social care system.

George Osborne announced a new optional levy on council tax of up to 2% per year, which is to be ring-fenced to fund adult social care. But commentators are suggesting that even if this is implemented by every council each year there will still be a substantial funding gap.

Perhaps even more problematic is the risk that access to social care could become more of a postcode lottery and exacerbates health inequalities by disadvantaging councils with weaker tax bases. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, councils such as Manchester, Hackney, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham could only raise an extra 4%, while Richmond and Windsor could raise 17-18%. Meanwhile the King’s Fund warned the measures “are not a substitute for sustainable funding”.

No other advanced economy is reducing the share of national income spent on social care, as the UK is doing. We know that during the first few years of the last parliament’s social care cuts, over 360,000 fewer older people received social care than before. It is difficult to be optimistic about the future of social care against this background.

5. The welfare situation has changed less than the headlines suggest – and we will do all we can to be there for people affected by cancer

One of the big headlines after the Spending Review was the government’s supposed u-turn on its controversial proposals to cut Tax Credits. While we welcome this change because we know many people with cancer use this financial support, this is only a short-term gain, as the same cuts will continue to apply to Universal Credit, which is already being phased in.

Despite talk of u-turns, the impact of tax and social security changes over the next four financial years will be the same as first estimated after the July Budget statement (the poorest 20% will still be around 7% worse off). The Chancellor also reiterated his commitment to implement £12bn of savings, part of which is the already announced cut to ESA WRAG, which we are campaigning to stop.

Macmillan believes it is vital people affected by cancer get the support they need through the social security system, so monitoring and responding to the introduction of Universal Credit will continue to be an important part of our work.

What do you think about the impact of the Spending Review? Let us know in the comments below.

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