Healthcare leaders have called for Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to come up with proper solutions to fix the NHS instead of offering “glib soundbites, gimmicks and political rhetoric”.
NHS Confederation, which represents hospital trusts, has written an open letter to the leadership contenders accusing them of failing to appreciate the “huge pressures” facing the healthcare system and the need for “meaningful long-term solutions”.
The organisation said demand facing the NHS now is akin to that usually seen later in the year – resulting in a “winter in summer” crisis.
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said healthcare leaders are heading into the next few months with “a real sense of foreboding” amid a growing backlog that is being hindered by chronic staff shortages and “crumbling” infrastructure.
But he said the government is not being honest with the public about the depth of the problems and what is needed to address them.
He said: “We need both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss to demonstrate a heavy dose of realism about the state of the NHS and the promise of an open, frank and honest conversation about what this means.
“To truly level with the public they must acknowledge that this means crumbling buildings and ill-equipped outdated estate, 105,000 NHS staff and 165,000 social care vacancies at the last count, and a social care system in desperate need of repair and very far from being fixed as the current prime minister would have us believe.”
The warning comes after former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the NHS was “absent” from the leadership debate, despite a “looming winter crisis”.
Earlier today the Tory MP tweeted: “Staff shortages & morale have never been worse. If the NHS continues this spiral of decline with ambulances, A&Es & GP surgeries all in serious crisis, we’ll see avoidable deaths mount up this winter. Staff know there’s no silver bullet, but they need to know there’s a plan.”
What have the leadership hopefuls promised for the NHS?
Mr Sunak has promised a “vaccines-style” taskforce to tackle NHS backlogs, calling dealing with the issue one of his top priorities.
He has said he will introduce a £10 fine for missed GP appointments if he becomes prime minister and plans to expand the network of specialist surgical centres and community diagnostics hubs in order to eliminate one-year NHS waiting times six months earlier than planned, by September 2024.
Liz Truss has also agreed on the urgent need to deal with care backlogs, promising to install a “strong” health secretary to solve the issue.
She has also said she is “completely committed” to current government promises for NHS spending, despite her plans to reverse the hike in National Insurance that was designed to pay to fix the backlog and reforms to social care.
But NHS Confederation said that, whilst both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss have indicated general support for the NHS, “any real substance and clarity in how they will do this is still lacking”.
They said that instead of offering “platitudes, soundbites and policy gimmicks” the government must urgently tackle three key issues affecting the NHS.
Most pressing is the need for a “fully costed and funded workforce plan” to deal with the chronic staff shortages, the organisation said.
They also want the next prime minister to bring forward a capital investment programme to upgrade and replace outdated buildings, and emergency help for social care – including a national minimum care worker’s wage of £10.50 per hour to prevent a mass exodus of staff.
NHS leaders said inadequate social care provision has contributed to up to 45% of delayed discharges from hospital and “the need to get this right cannot be overstated”.
They said that without urgent action they have “grave concerns about the immediate and long term future of the NHS”.
Sky News have contacted Ms Truss and Mr Sunak for comment.
The calls come as the candidates prepare to face the cameras on Sky News this evening.
‘The Battle for Number 10′ will be broadcast live for 90 minutes and for free on Sky News channel 501, on Freeview 233, on Sky Showcase channel 106, and across Sky News’ digital channels.