With a new parliament in place, now is the time to review the urgent problems facing our health system, more than a thousand health and care workers heard on the first day of Confed17.

The event, an annual conference aimed at NHS Confederation members, saw speeches made that touched on the strain our services are under and the importance of maintaining a united front.

‘A people business’

A review of long-term demand patterns in health and care is needed, NHS Confederation chairman Stephen Dorrell warned the audience as he gave the conference's opening speech. Recognising the needs of NHS staff and integrating the NHS into local services will be central to this, he argued.

‘Healthcare is a people business’, Dorrell said, stressing the vital importance of hiring enough people and providing them with opportunities for development: “We need to ensure that our people work in a culture which empowers and motivates them. Too often our organisations and structures feel like obstacles to great care; we must ensure they are redesigned when necessary to make it easy for our staff to do the right thing.

‘Real life will not wait’

Now is the time to carry out a thorough review of long-term demand patterns, no matter what makeup the government takes in the coming weeks and months, Dorrell said:

“I well understand the pressures which ministers face, particularly in a difficult parliamentary situation. I have the T-shirt.

“But real life will not wait; we all know that demand pressures within the system are building and it is a key part of the role of the Confederation to ensure that uncomfortable facts are understood and acted on.”

“We need to build on the work done by STPs and local authorities which offers the prospect of more joined-up services which reflect local needs.”

Time to ‘reset the clock’

The new parliament is an opportunity to ‘reset the clock’, chief executive Niall Dickson said in the final keynote address of day one at Confed17.

There is much to celebrate in our health system, Dickson said: record cancer survival rates, the biggest expansion of mental health services in Europe and high rates of dementia diagnosis.

However, he noted, there are also significant strains: “Waiting lists and times are rising, access to GPs is becoming more difficult and all over the country, patients are stuck in hospital beds not because they are sick but because there is nowhere for them to go.”

These issues are only going to grow as the population ages, Dickson said.

A national conversation

He called for a ‘national conversation’ to agree goals in the months and years ahead. In particular, he said, the government should work to find areas of common agreement on the issues that are most important in people’s lives – which are health and social care, the election results suggest.

“Our message to the politicians is that when it comes to the NHS, we have to stop launching life rafts and start fixing the ship,” he said, arguing that the main challenges are threefold: money, transformation and workforce.

“We need clarity on funding, we need political courage on transformation and a new approach on securing and supporting our workforce.”

‘United and unambiguous’

Dickson stressed the need of cooperation: “In these uncertain times, more than ever, we need to be united and unambiguous – clear what our offer is to the British people and what we need to deliver it. Some of this will be uncomfortable and we must be honest about what can and cannot be achieved and what is needed to bring about the transformation to which we are all committed.”

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