THE new Government gave the NHS a starring role in the recent Queen’s Speech before attention returned to the passage of Brexit legislation.
But they still have a very long way to go to ensure that the health of the National Health Service, and also the provision of social care for the elderly and vulnerable, will be in a better place at the end of this parliamentary term.
The challenges are UK wide but particularly acute in Yorkshire and the north of England.
While there seems to be a growing recognition of the workforce shortages facing the NHS, our politicians do not seem to have fully grasped just how grave these shortages are.
For years now we’ve been reporting ever-growing job vacancies, more staff sick days, and more staff leaving as the pressure grows.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, 39 per cent of the consultant posts that were advertised last year went unfilled.
Looking at the data another way, in London there’s one doctor for every 3,087 people, but in Yorkshire it’s only one for every 4,612 people.
It’s even worse for senior trainees – there’s almost twice as many in London.
With 28 per cent of trainees saying they would take a job outside the NHS if they could go back in time, we clearly have a problem.
This is why 2020 will be a make-or-break year when it comes to the NHS workforce.
The fact is that we simply aren’t training enough doctors, nurses and other clinicians.
By our calculations, we need to double the number of medical school places to break the current cycle of doctor shortages.
It’s not that we do not – and did not – know what lies ahead.
We have an ageing population, and many of us have two or more health conditions.
Workforce practices are changing, with more clinicians working part time or taking jobs that include time out of direct clinical care.
It would be wrong to think that fixing the NHS workforce crisis will solve all our problems (although it would be a massive help).
Though this issue has been frequently highlighted by The Yorkshire Post, the social care workforce is often forgotten about in the debates around health and care – the work they do is so important yet they’re generally underpaid and not appreciated.
A brief look at the data shows that there were 7,600 social care staff vacancies in Yorkshire last year and the average wage was around £20,000, or less if you work in the independent sector.
Narrowing the gap in health life expectancy between the richest and poorest must also be high on the agenda of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, who is the current Health and Social Care Secretary.
There’s a clear link between your social class and your health, so this is not just the responsibility of the NHS – it can only be fixed by looking at every aspect of government, particularly education, housing and local authority funding.
For example, children in the most deprived areas of Yorkshire and the Humber are twice as likely to be obese than children from the richest areas.
The region also has the highest proportion of adults who are overweight or obese in England.
We should all be asking our newly-elected representatives what they are going to do about this – particularly the deluge of unhealthy food adverts on television which continue to be aimed at our children – and telling them that the solution is not just personal responsibility alone.
While the new Government’s focus on the NHS is welcome, the proof of the pudding will, as always, be in the eating.
I hope this Government will take the necessary steps, but it’s up to all of us to make sure that Ministers do ultimately keep their promises.
Professor Andrew Goddard is president of the Royal College of Physicians.