Theresa May has hailed the launch of a 10-year plan for the NHS in England as a “truly historic moment”.
Health chiefs say that up to 500,000 lives could be saved under the plan, which involves greater use of high-tech treatments and diagnostic testing and could prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases.
The plan has been welcomed by campaigners, but experts warned that implementing it would be difficult.
Presenting the document at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, Mrs May said that she had asked the NHS to draw up a long-term plan in return for the Government’s commitment to a £20.5 billion real-terms boost to health spending over the next five years.
Together, the additional funding and the long-term plan would “provide both the certainty and the long-term direction needed to transform patient care and secure the future of our NHS”, the Prime Minister said.
She said that it was affordable in part because the UK would no longer be sending “vast annual sums” to Brussels after it leaves the European Union.
But Labour insisted that the extra money announced last year would not be enough to deliver the care that patients need.
“The Tories have spent nine years running down the NHS and now they are asking for another ten years to sort out their mess,” said the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn.
NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson welcomed the “vision to strengthen and improve services” set out in the document, but warned: “The plan cannot escape the harsh reality that the NHS will still face tough decisions on what it can and cannot do.”
And Local Government Association spokesman Ian Hudspeth said the goals can only be fully realised if the Government plugs a £3.6 billion funding gap in adult social care and reverses £600 million in reductions to councils’ public health grants.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said that about 23,000 premature deaths could be prevented by putting 100,000 people with heart complaints through a healthy living and exercise programme every year.
And the plans aim to ensure three-quarters of cancers are diagnosed early, when they can be treated more successfully, up from half at present.
As part of the drive to use new technology to help treat and prevent conditions:
– The NHS will become the first health service in the world to offer whole genome sequencing for children with cancer to help target treatment specifically at their needs.
– There will be genetic testing for about 30,000 people with dangerously high inherited cholesterol.
– Pilot schemes will see “smart” inhalers given to respiratory patients to monitor their condition.
– Cutting-edge scans and the potential use of artificial intelligence to improve stroke care.
– Patients will be able to access health care at the touch of the button through a “digital front door” to the NHS.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Whether it’s treating ever more people in their communities, using the latest technology to tackle preventable diseases, or giving every baby the very best start in life – this Government has given the NHS the multi-billion pound investment needed to nurture and safeguard our nation’s health service for generations to come.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond said the NHS needed to ensure care was provided “efficiently”.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he said: “The public hates waste in the NHS and quite rightly want to know that their taxes are spent effectively, to deliver excellent front-line services to patients.”
Under the plan there will be a £4.5 billion boost for primary and community care, and investment in mental health services will rise to at least £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24.
About two million more people who suffer anxiety, depression or other problems will receive help over the next decade.
Mr Stevens said the plan “keeps all that’s good about our health service and its place in our national life”.
“It tackles head on the pressures our staff face.
“And it sets a practical, costed, phased route map for the NHS’s priorities for care quality and outcomes improvement for the decade ahead.”
Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, said smart inhalers were “game-changing devices” that “track how often and well people are taking their asthma medication so that those most at risk of asthma attacks can be identified and helped before they need hospital treatment”.
Stroke Association chief executive Juliet Bouverie said the plan makes tackling stroke a “national priority”, adding: “We know this plan can and will ensure that more lives are saved and more people spared from serious disability.”
But Nigel Edwards from health think tank the Nuffield Trust said that while the plan’s aims were right “there are several big pitfalls ahead”, with the extra funding still below what experts thought was needed and a lack of key staff presenting “the biggest obstacle of all”.