As Conservative Party Conference closed in Birmingham last week, Intelligent Health’s Policy Lead Emily Carter takes a look into any updates from health, levelling up, sport and physical activity and transport.
All eyes were on the governing party for this conference, with the political event closing with Liz Truss’ first speech as Prime Minister, and many across sectors seeking to find out what various government departments were set to prioritise. In this article we consider any relevant updates for the sector, and what it could mean for the next two years of this government for those primarily across England.
Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister, Therese Coffey, presented to conference the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) ‘Plan for Patients’ which consists of the alphabetical Ambulances, Backlogs, Care, Doctors and Dentists (ABCD). This very much reiterated what the Secretary of State has openly discussed with the media since the plan was unveiled in late September, with Coffey announcing to conference that the Conservatives “will always be on your side, when you need care the most.” This speech came after the announcement earlier this week that the new Health Secretary has scrapped plans to publish the department’s much awaited white paper on tackling health inequalities.
An upcoming priority for the NHS will be to recruit more 999 call handlers and building hospital capacity so that ambulances can get back on the road quicker. This of course, relates to the number of ambulance call outs resulting in patients waiting in the vehicles outside of hospitals where beds are not available. The government is seeking to provide 7,000 more hospital beds.
With NHS backlogs consistently a recurrent issue for past governments, Coffey has pledged to reduce waiting times through the use of surgical hubs (located on existing hospital sites, focusing on various common surgeries such as cataracts operations and hip replacements) and community diagnostic centres (a one-stop shop for checks, scans and tests as referred by a patient’s GP). The Plan for Patients also states that pension rules for NHS staff will be revisited to retain doctors, nurses and other senior NHS staff. DHSC is also continuing with its commitment to increasing nurse recruitment, all of which the Department is intending to directly result in reduced backlogs.
A further £500 million will be made available for the safe discharge of hospital patients into the support of the care workforce. This again, is a measure that the government is looking to utilise to free up hospital beds for those who need them. Additionally, the Plan pledges to invest in a national recruitment campaign to encourage more of the workforce into social care and £15 million to recruit international care workers.
Addressing the lack of access to general practice is another key policy for the new Health Secretary. DHSC are looking to ensure that those seeking a GP appointment can get one within two weeks, and to provide an additional 31,000 phone lines for GP practices across England through the delivery of cloud-based telephone solutions. Urgent cases will still be prioritised with the government pledging to make these appointments available within the same day. A considerable part of opening access to healthcare is the expansion of services available within community pharmacies, freeing up GP time and providing more pharmacists with prescribing powers.
In the Prime Minister’s closing speech, Liz Truss promised to “level up the Conservative way,” but what does this mean? And how does it differ from plans laid out by previous Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who very much spearheaded the levelling up campaign?
New Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Simon Clarke addressed the conference in a pre-recorded message and reiterated that levelling up matters “economically, politically and morally” and made a further case for devolution across England’s local authorities.
Clarke told the conference that DLUHC will be seeking to extend powers given to Metro Mayors, such as Andy Burnham in Manchester and Andy Street in Birmingham, to enable them to “crack on” with delivering local growth. Also discussed was “cracking down” on local authority financial mismanagement, citing recent interventions with Thurrock Council and Nottingham City Council, and Investment Zones, which were of course announced in the new Chancellor’s mini-budget at the end of last month.
Local authority areas are currently being invited to put forward an expression of interest to become an Investment Zone. A key policy of the Levelling Up agenda, these zones will offer lower taxes and streamlined planning rules for specific areas within the Zone, with the intention that these zones will get boosted funding for commercial and residential building developments and in turn add to economic growth.
Sport and physical activity
Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan MP emphasised her passion for grassroots sport in her conference speech. Acknowledging the impact Chippenham Town and Melksham Town Football Clubs have in her own constituency, Donelan congratulated the Lionesses for their heroic win. With the conference being hosted in Birmingham, the Commonwealth Games of this Summer were clearly a hot topic. Reiterating the feats of the Games, having been organised in record time and also being delivered more than £60 million under budget, the Secretary of State announced that this surplus funding would be directed towards “cementing” the legacy of the Games, specifically in the West Midlands region.
The speech focussed mostly around the ‘digital’ element of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with Donelan expressing the want for better broadband, phone signal and 5G and “removing the red tape” of GDPR with the government seeking to replace the EU Regulations with “our own business and consumer-friendly British data protection system.”
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Secretary of State for Transport outlined the government’s global plan to “Get Britain Moving” during her conference speech. Recognising that Birmingham and the West Midlands region “was the crucible from which much of the modern world was built,” Trevelyan discussed the government’s work in updating the British rail infrastructure and the investment bought to the West Midlands region through HS2.
Trevelyan acknowledged the ongoing strike, stating: “my message to the trade union membership is simple: please take your seats at the negotiating table and let’s find a landing zone which we can all work with.” This was arguably a definitive move from her predecessor Grant Shapps’ approach to industrial action. The Transport Secretary focused—as did her Cabinet colleagues—on growth, stating that a key part of achieving growth would be “keeping our promises and delivering for the people.”
Despite active travel being a considerable priority in the Johnson government, we are yet to see how this will shape under Truss’ premiership, with cycling and walking not featuring in the Secretary of State’s conference speech. Some conversations during fringe events may have been telling of what’s to come with former transport advisor, Andrew Gilligan, warning that Active Travel England may not “survive” the new administration. However, part of the ministerial team of the Department for Transport, Lucy Frazer, (who was also on the panel at the fringe event) reaffirmed that cycling and walking was still very much on the government’s agenda when questioned by Adam Tranter, Cycling and Walking Commissioner for the West Midlands, stating: “we set up Active Travel England and we are committed to its £2 billion in terms of active travel.” She iterated that the government are also looking at how to design new build housing better to encourage those living in these areas to opt for alternative transport over cars.
Intelligent Health will continue to provide its partners with updates on policy news affecting the sector.
You can also read our ‘What’s What?’ for this year’s Labour Party Conference.
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