The King's Fund and Age Concern event looks to the future of the NHS

The Chancellor, Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, attended a major Age Concern and King's Fund event this weekend (Saturday, 16 June 2007) to listen to the views of the public and health care professionals on the key issues facing the NHS.

The Chancellor listened to around 100 people at the King's Fund in London, including members of the public, particularly older people, NHS managers, doctors, nurses and other health professionals, discuss the challenges facing the NHS today and in the future.

Speaking at the close of the consultation event, the Chancellor said:

'You cannot have a government that just tries to pull levers, you have to talk to people and take their views into account.

'We need a better way to listen to people and act on what they say. If we don’t listen, we’ll get things wrong. Bringing patients and health service employees together is the way forward.'

Nearly everyone attending the event said they wanted to be involved in decisions about the overall direction of the NHS. Participants reported largely positive personal experiences of the NHS – three-quarters rated their care as good, very good or excellent – but started the event with a negative outlook on the future of the NHS.

However, the event also showed that when people have more say and more information their opinions change – at the start of the event only around one in three thought the NHS would improve over the next five years but this rose to more than two thirds by the end.

Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern, said:

'Putting health users and professionals at the centre of the NHS is critical for the future of the health service. Today's event has not only shown the value of getting the input of the public – but it also shows they are willing to play their part.

'All too often vulnerable patients, especially older people, are not fully consulted on their care. Only by really listening to these users can we provide an NHS fit for the 21st century.'

The King’s Fund Chief Executive Niall Dickson said:

'The Prime Minister in waiting has chosen health as his key priority and that is enormously encouraging. Today's event was a demonstration of that commitment. Listening to the public and professionals is a positive way of engaging people in health service reforms. However, the real test will come when the new government takes over and the extent to which they are committed to continuing the path of real reform in the health service.

'We need to be cautious about drawing definitive conclusions from an event such as this, but it is interesting that informed debate seemed to shift opinion and produce a greater level of consensus. With major challenges facing the NHS, such as moving more hospital-based care into the community, we have to find new ways of enabling such a debate.'

Luke Twelves, a GP from Cambridgeshire and a participant in the event, said:

'The NHS needs to engage with the public. The public is why we do it. When they are involved, they show that they are more than capable of understanding the complex issues facing the NHS.'

The deliberative consultation, run by Opinion Leader Research for The King's Fund and Age Concern, focused on four key themes: access to the NHS, personal responsibility and public health, variations in service provision across the country, and specialisation and reorganisation of hospital services.

The King's Fund and Age Concern event also revealed divided views on whether people with illnesses caused by smoking or eating badly should have lower priority than people who have not played a part in causing their own illness. Among participants around four in ten thought such patients should have a lower priority with slightly more disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with that idea.

Before round-table discussions, which were observed by Gordon Brown, 39 per cent of those taking part agreed that more high-tech care should be moved to bigger hospitals and other lower-tech procedures should be done in local clinics or GP practices. Many smaller local hospitals should change or close. This changed to 60 per cent at end of the debate.

Notes to editors: 

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King’s Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; conferences, seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.
  3. Age Concern England is a national voluntary organisation aiming to improve opportunities and quality of life for people over 50. The charity works through campaigning, policy development, research, information provision, publishing, training, grant-making and international and European work. For further information, please visit www.ageconcern.org.uk.
  4. A full report will be available later this summer.