Melody Redman: My wish is for a sustainable NHS in the year ahead

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IN the final part of a mini-series, junior doctor Melody Redman looks ahead to 2017.

THE start of the New Year is often symbolic of hope and new beginnings; we make resolutions and are afforded a fresh start. Whatever your hopes and resolutions are for 2017, there will be many who are wishing for better health for themselves or a loved one.

This year, I have one main wish for the NHS: that is sustainability. As the year ends, we find our NHS in a difficult situation. Workplace pressures have increased, deficits have increased; the prognosis does not look good. For a long time we have needed change and have instead been offered sticking plasters and short term solutions that don’t go far enough.

For 2017, we need the Government to urgently address the crisis within our NHS with long-term sustainable solutions.

Most of us think very highly of our NHS. Many of us will have at some point been privy to its care, from welcoming a baby into the world, visiting a relative as they grapple with an illness, or comforting a friend following the passing of a loved one.

No matter our wage, our social background or our life decisions, we are all entitled to the same free NHS care. When our health is so valuable and so fragile, its accessibility is a great security. As a doctor, it’s a pleasure to work within a system with such great principles – but its future is uncertain.

Though my hope is for a sustainable NHS, I have concerns that the reassuringly titled ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ (STPs) – part of the Government’s Five Year Forward View – may have fallen short. The transparency around the details of these plans and lack of public engagement is a real concern. Local plans have been produced for all health and care systems in England outlining how each area will address national priorities such as seven day services.

From April 2017, NHS transformation funding will only be accessible by applying through the STP process. Whilst some of the STP principles, such as integrated care and working together, are positive, the changes that need to be made for true sustainability and transformation will take more time and resources. Transparency and honest debate is essential in this process as we need reassurance that plans are for the improvement of patient care rather than a cover to achieve savings.

This time last year, I wrote in The Yorkshire Post about my desire for clarity surrounding seven day services. Despite a whole year passing, I am frustrated that this has not been achieved. As we face yet another year of winter pressures, where we are expected to go above and beyond to manage our workload, how can more be done without extra resources?

This year another group of medical students will commence their long journey in medicine. I hope that the Government do more to make medicine the attractive career option it once was. Currently, only a small percentage of doctors come from a working class background. It is important that we attract a wider variety of students so that we are truly representative of the population we serve.

For the staff already working within the NHS, we must do more to improve morale so that we do not lose the highly skilled workers we have. The dispute surrounding the new junior doctor contract has contributed to the disillusionment of thousands of junior doctors, and these are the very individuals who are the backbone of our NHS.

There are still many areas of uncertainty around the impacts of this, for example, the British Medical Association have asked for reassurance that junior doctors who contribute to research will not be penalised compared to their wholly clinical colleagues. I hope despite political uncertainty that our country’s researchers can continue to contribute on an international level. We also need reassurance and clarity about EU nationals working within the NHS. Indeed, with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its implications on the NHS, we must make sure that the NHS keeps its doors open to skilled workers from outside the UK.

As an individual doctor, I also have my own hopes over the next year. With exams coming up, research projects to continue, and ongoing training pressures, I hope to improve my skills and knowledge as I develop further within my role.

As an advocate for my patients, I hope that more is done in 2017 to address issues with public health. Much more preventative measures can be taken to tackle issues such as obesity and social deprivation.

Ultimately, I want to see greater collaboration between the Government, medics and the public. If we collaborate, we can make sure our NHS is sustainable, transparent, and accessible, and we can work towards providing the high-quality healthcare our population deserves. 2017 offers a fresh start; let’s work together, as our country’s health and wellbeing depends upon it.

Dr Melody Redman is a junior doctor at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.