Liz Truss has been successful in her bid to become leader of the Conservative party and the new Prime Minister, but NHS leaders warn she is set to inherit an NHS in its ‘most challenging state’ for decades.
Her leadership was confirmed yesterday (5 September) after winning 81,326 votes to her rival Rishi Sunak’s 60,399.
In her victory speech, Ms Truss stated she has a ‘bold plan’ to deal with energy bills and supply issues – both of which health leaders have warned will disrupt the NHS.
She also said she would deliver for the NHS – although she offered little more detail.
And it is also understood, at the time of going to press, that Ms Truss is to appoint Therese Coffey as the new health and social care secretary – taking over from Steve Barclay who served for around two months.
Healthcare Leader examines Ms Truss’ previous comments and promises for the NHS, and assesses what health leaders want from the new Prime Minister.
What’s Liz Truss said?
Ms Truss has faced relatively little scrutiny for her plans for the health sector.
Ms Truss has promised to unveil radical reforms to NHS pensions to stop doctors from retiring early, with reports suggesting she is considering changing the rules surrounding lifetime pension caps. But this plan is yet to surface.
Vocally opposed to tax increases, Ms Truss last month promised to scrap Mr Sunak’s national insurance hike, despite pledging to spend the money.
Mr Sunak’s admittedly unpopular plan, which was announced last year and came into effect in April 2022, was enacted with the intention of raising around £13bn a year for the health and social care sector.
However, Ms Truss then said she would prioritise social care over the NHS, by diverting that earmarked funding for the NHS backlog into the social care sector.
She told a hustings event in Birmingham as much, adding that she understood there was a lack of local decision making in the NHS.
‘I would spend that money in social care. Quite a lot has gone to the NHS. I would give it to local authorities. We have people in beds in the NHS who would be better off in social care. So put that money into social care,’ she said.
‘We put the extra £13bn in and what people who work in the NHS tell me is the problem is the number of layers in the organisation they have to go through to get things done, the lack of local decision-making. That’s what people are telling me is the problem, rather than a lack of funding.’
What do leaders want?
At the top of everyone’s wish list appears to be a greater commitment to supporting the workforce and improvements to pay.
In a letter to the new PM, Professor Philip Banfield, the BMA’s chair of council, described the NHS’ as a workforce that ‘went above and beyond’ during the pandemic only to be taken ‘entirely for granted by the Government’, urging Ms Truss to ‘right that wrong’.
He urged her to reconsider the recent pay award and to tackle ‘punitive’ pension taxation to boost staff morale and retain healthcare professionals.
The Health Foundation similarly called on Ms Truss to address chronic shortages as ‘the immediate priority’ for her Government.
Dr Jennifer Dixon, its chief executive, said that ‘compared to many other European countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands we spend far less on health care per person, and have done so for decades’.
She said that ‘without further support’ near future for people and public services ‘looks very bleak’.
Plans to retaining staff and filling roles are a key demand as ever, but have been underpinned by last week’s revelation that the NHS now has more than 130,000 vacancies across England, excluding primary care.
The NHS Confederation flagged that this is contributing to overcrowded emergency departments and spiralling ambulance handover delays.
Its chief executive Matthew Taylor told the next Prime Minister they must use their anticipated emergency budget in September to tackle the NHS crisis head on.
‘Otherwise, they will put NHS leaders in the position of being forced to make impossible choices about which services to cut back over the coming months and years ahead – choices that many are already facing,’ he said.
And Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, warned: ‘With inflation and energy costs eroding NHS funding, the prime minister must ensure budgets for health and social care are not impacted by a political call to reverse the recent uplift in national insurance payments.’