The dust is now settling on a marathon election campaign and over the last few weeks the Government has reconfirmed its commitment to the Five Year Forward View (5YFV) and to filling £8 billion of the projected funding gap in the NHS by the end of the Parliament.
Just yesterday, in his speech to the Simon Stevens made it clear that now was the time for change – no more tolerating resistance to redesign and innovation that benefits patients and the NHS.
NHS England leadership is backed by the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, who has made clear that key to delivering the 5YFV is developing new models of care out of hospitals,saying recently that his “biggest priority now is to transform care outside hospitals […]. All of us want every single older and vulnerable person to be treated with the highest standards of care – so we need a step change in services offered through GP surgeries, community care and social care. That is my mission, and I know it is the mission of the whole NHS too”.
The NCHA supports the need to focus on transforming care outside hospitals but we caution that this is a challenge that the NHS has struggled with since the 1980s. It has been unable to deliver adult hearing services out-of-hospital at scale for over 30 years and thus this non-medical service remains predominately hospital based. We estimate that in 2013 over 1.7 million non-medical patient contacts could have been delivered in community settings instead of hospitals.
Looking forward, the renewed focus on redesigning services for our ageing population is encouraging. The joined up approach – NHS England, Monitor, the Department of Health and many providers – is a reason for optimism, but we must hold leadership to their word; change must happen now, not later. As Simon Stevens made clear yesterday, NHS leadership, including commissioners, cannot kick the change programme down the road for somebody else to take on.
Our hope is that evidence, not history, will help design hearing services and NHS care closer to home might finally become a reality for millions of adults with a hearing loss. If we can achieve that then we would have tackled a serious public health challenge and reduced health inequalities, the risk of social isolation, depression and cognitive decline.
Like mental health, hearing loss is often invisible and goes unrecognised and unsupported, therefore Simon Stevens’s strong commitment to improving public and mental health is the most promising development yet. The Action Plan on Hearing Loss shows NHS leadership is serious about improving hearing services in England. Over the last year we have demonstrated the benefits of community hearing care and we will continue to work with all partners to fulfil the Government and NHS England’s ambition of a modern and patient centred service.