The NHS in England will have to be “reset” after the next election, Labour have said, with a fundamental shift from hospital care to support in the home.
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said that under a Labour Government NHS patients would have “powerful new rights” to improved long-term care, but would have to accept that local hospital services may be changed or downgraded to save money.
Speaking to health service managers at the NHS Confederation's annual conference today, he said that the change would be so significant that every household in the country should be sent a leaflet outlining “what people should expect” from the NHS in the 21 century.
Patients could expect a single point of contact to coordinate their NHS care, as well as a "personalised care plan", Mr Burnham said. However, he said politicians would need to be honest with the public and tell them that
"To make all this happen you must expect to see changes in your local NHS and in particular at your local hospital," including fewer hospital beds.
Senior figures in the Labour party are understood to be drawing up plans for a manifesto pledge to increase NHS spending. However, while not ruling out a funding boost, Mr Burnham insisted that it would not be right to ask the taxpayer for more money until reforms were in place.
“Until we correct the flaws in this system... we can't ask the public to pay more into that system,” he said. “We've already admitted that we're not able to get the best for them out of what they're currently giving... to put more money in now would be to prop up a 20th Century model of care, which is increasingly offering ever increasing hospitalisation of old people as its answer to the ageing society.”
The need to reform the NHS so that preventative care in the home and the community is upgraded to avoid expensive and ever-increasing hospital admissions is now a mantra for all three political parties.
The health service is facing a financial crisis, with a budget deficit of £30 billion predicted by 2021, and some experts have said that the NHS will need an injection of funding in the next Parliament or face the reality of significant cuts to services.
However, with the economic recovery still fragile and NHS spending set in stone until 2015/16, both Mr Burnham and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt say that reform and cutting waste must come before any new funding allocation.
Mr Hunt, who also addressed NHS Confederation members today, said it would be “much easier to make the argument for extra funding if you really have been innovative and done everything you possibly can to eliminate waste in every part of the system”.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Care Minister, admitted that the financial sustainability of the NHS would have to be urgently addressed by the next Government.
“Whatever Government is in power after May 2015, the finances of the NHS is going to be one of the most pressing issues that they will have to face,” he said.