The NHS long-term plan for England is not really a ‘plan’

I’ve not been close to work with the NHS for some years, and I’ve been away from England rather longer; but I think I know what a plan looks like, and the NHS Long Term Plan isn’t it.  The supposed plan is a long, rambling shopping list, lacking in structure, priorities or the means of achieving any aspirations people might have.  It’s all very well to say that the service will “dissolve the divide between primary and community health services”, or that people will have “more personalised health care when they need it”, but we need to know why, how, and how we will know if it’s happened.

One of the implications of the lack of structure is that there will be no way to tell whether or not this document has made any difference.  Being told, in bold lettering,  that “The health  service will continue to support implementation and delivery of the government’s new five-year action plan on Antimicrobial Resistance” or that “every trust in England with a maternity and neonatal service will be part of the National Maternal and Neonatal Health Safety Collaborative” tells us nothing at all – and if those objectives aren’t achieved, the gaps will be covered up by the rubble from hundreds of other equivalent objectives which might be achieved on the whole, or in part, or not at all.    The problem with long lists of policies,  Aaron Wildavsky wrote in Speaking truth to power,  is that they become a way of burying the things that don’t get achieved – “mechanisms for avoiding rather than making choices”.  The NHS Long Term Plan doesn’t identify problems, aims, methods, process, outcomes, or how to get value for money.  That doesn’t inspire confidence for the future.

2 thoughts on “The NHS long-term plan for England is not really a ‘plan’”

  1. I have had various personal interactions with NHS, as a carer, over the past few years and consequently have taken some interest in wider policy aspects, at least in Scotland. I have come to the conclusion that most politicians simply don’t understand or wish to understand how the NHS operates especially in relation to care of the elderly and social care. Technology has its place but without sufficient staff who are appropriately remunerated, trained and managed in the right places then no “plan” is going to work. I see growing demand (sometimes unrealistic public expectations which politicians are too scared to confront) and an increasingly stressed workforce constantly trying to “improve efficiency” just to keep the system from falling apart. I am glad I live in Scotland (but of course Scottish resources depend upon the UK NHS “cake”) but overall I am profoundly pessimistic about the NHS.

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