THERE is no public service more loved than the NHS, and none that presents greater challenges to any government in terms of its funding and ability to meet the demands placed upon it.
Today’s launch of a 10-year plan for the service is the latest attempt to take a long-term strategic view of how it will operate, and that is to be welcomed because too often management of the NHS has been characterised by short-term thinking or knee-jerk responses to crises.
The plan contains sensible and ambitious ideas, the broad focus being on the prevention of illness, including mental health problems, and a streamlining of care in major hospitals to get people home as quickly as possible.
Cutting administrative spending so more can be spent on patients is also to be applauded.
All these are long-standing issues, and action to sort them out is overdue.
Yet it remains to be seen if the plan can deal with the central conundrum facing the NHS – a growing population that is living longer than ever before, and consequently suffering more illness as it ages.
This is at the heart of all the problems and shortages that the service suffers.
The scale of those shortages was starkly illustrated by the British Medical Association’s response to the plan.
In pointing out that the NHS has 100,000 vacancies, it highlights the fact that without staff to deliver them, the plan’s aspirations cannot be achieved.
The plan avoids these hard questions about staffing which at some point will have to be addressed, and the funding found to plug the gaps.
Nevertheless, this is a sound and achievable blueprint for the future which gives the NHS the best chance of fulfilling the expectations placed upon it and responding to a level of demand that will only ever grow.