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Press release

'Tinkering at the edges' - The King's Fund responds to today's Secretary of State statement

Commenting on today’s statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sally Warren, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, said:

‘Today’s announcement contains some sound ambitions and sensible measures, but amounts to little more than tinkering at the edges. Despite the best efforts of NHS and social care staff, patients are facing a grim winter struggling to access over-stretched services. The scale of the challenge requires bolder action.

‘The reinstatement of a scheme to help patients to move off NHS wards and into social care will relieve some of the pressure on hospitals. But social care is much more than a release valve for NHS pressures. A short-term, short-notice pot of cash is not going to help social care services to address unmet need, improve quality of care, or recruit and retain more staff. Social care providers are carrying approximately 165,000 vacancies, and analysis by The King’s Fund shows that nearly 400,000 care workers would be better paid working in most supermarkets.

‘The single most significant reason many people find it hard to access care is the long-term lack of staff across both NHS and social care. This existed long before Covid-19 struck and has been many years in the making. Many of the other measures announced by the Secretary of State, such as extending the emergency registration scheme for retired staff to re-join the NHS, changes to pensions and a drive to enlist more health service volunteers, are welcome, but they are too little too late to avoid an extremely difficult winter. Addressing the staffing crisis will require a comprehensive, long-term workforce strategy, and I hope the government comes good on its commitment to deliver one this autumn.’

Commenting on the government’s announcement, specifically on the measures to improve access to general practice, Beccy Baird, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said:

'This is a problem that has been a long time in the making. Demand for GP appointments has been rising inexorably and services have been struggling to meet that demand for some time. Setting new expectations and targets will not suddenly increase the capacity in general practice.

'As well as the ambition for everyone to get an appointment within two weeks, today’s announcement includes the expectation that patients with the most urgent needs should get an appointment within the same day.  We know from past experience that setting targets for the speed with which people get an appointment can create perverse incentives. It is critical that this does not lead to emphasis on seeing patients quickly at the expense of people with longer term and chronic conditions.

'The government announcement does include some welcome measures such as pharmacists offering more support to patients and allowing practices to recruit GP assistants and more advanced nurse practitioners. Taken together the measures announced today will barely scratch the surface of a challenge that can’t be resolved without recruiting and retaining more primary care staff to ensure patients can access the care they need.'

Notes to editors

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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.