I am surprised to be writing this – but the NHS England 5 Year Forward View is rather hopeful – there is no reference to waiting times in the whole report!
It affirms the resilience of the NHS despite the government’s austerity programmes.
“No health system anywhere in the world in recent times has managed five years of little or no growth without either increasing charges, cutting services or cutting staff. The NHS has been a remarkable exception.”
Its honest about where the NHS needs to improve, in particular the:
- failure to implement the Wanless ‘fully engaged scenario’ by respective governments and the impact this has had on prevention
- impact of barriers created by ‘artificial boundaries between hospitals/primary care, health/social care and generalists/ specialists
- impact of austerity on funding
- failure to shift funding from hospital to community
“hospital consultants have increased around 3 times faster than GPs and there has only been .6% increase in the number of nurses working in the community over the past 10 years”
It identifies three key gaps:
- Health and Wellbeing – and the risk that ‘deep’ health inequalities will widen
- Care and Quality – highlighting some of the particular challenges for a number of groups in particular vulnerable people over the age of 85
- Funding and Efficiency – the need for ‘reasonable’ funding
It sets out a range of actions – some of them are helpful while others recycle existing NHS cultural approaches.
So we see the usual focus on behaviour change (hard hitting campaigns, labelling, targeted personal support….yawn) but not enough on advocacy, welfare rights and debt advice – even though there are many NHS services that do provide these. For these we need to turn to the recent Kings Fund/Joseph Rowntree report Tackling poverty: Making more of the NHS in England
“England is too diverse for a ‘one size fits all model’
There is a welcome emphasis on localism with a call for more power for local leaders and commitment to support whole system wrap around service models that bring together health care and community. Two models are proposed – one feels more General Practice led (Multi-Speciality Community Providers) and the other more Hospital led (Primary and Acute Care Systems).
What feels particularly hopeful is an assertive shift to break the purchaser provider split:
“It may make sense for local communities to discuss convergence of care models for the future. This will require a new perspective where leaders look beyond their individual organisations interests and towards the future development of whole health care economies and are rewarded for doing so”
Finally, there are some sections on the importance of the voluntary and community sector and communities. There appears to be a growing understanding of the important role that the VCS can play in building relationships with citizens and helping to bring a whole person approach to support through initiatives like social prescribing and volunteering.
This includes recognising that funding regimes must be more accessible to the VCS.
“we will seek to reduce the time and complexity associated with securing local NHS funding by developing a short national alternative to the standard NHS contract where grant funding may be more appropriate than burdensome contracts and by encouraging funders to commit to multiyear funding wherever possible”
Lets face it NHSE has inherited a cultural legacy that is too often hierarchical, target led, out of touch with place and used to pleasing government first and communities and citizens second. Thus far its approach to commissioning primary care has felt removed and not sensitive to local need – particularly with regard to disadvantaged communities.
If this documents ambition is to be realised NHSE needs to review its existing structures and the skill sets of its staff. There is talk of an ‘organisational fitness review’ the outcome of this will be crucial to the success of this forward look.
While the front end of the report has solid reference to the impact of inequalities and its causes the actions towards the end of the document are not so crisp. The clearest call seems to be the expectation that hospitals will step in to create community services in disadvantaged areas using the suggested Primary and Acute Care Systems model. If I was in General Practice I would feel uncomfortable about this.
There needs to be an explicit programme of work that focusses on the most disadvantaged communities with a commitment to ensure that additional resources for primary care are fast tracked to these communities.
The voluntary sector
While it is refreshing to see a stronger recognition of the contribution of the VCS and of volunteering there needs to be a major shift in investment and capability. The commitment to simpler procurement, grant aid and longer term funding is welcome. However, there needs to be more substantial and long term investment in:
- Capturing good practice and improving VCS capability
- Using portfolio approaches – as pioneered by the BIG lottery and the Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund to drive innovation and capture learning
- Infrastructure Organisations – both local and regional
- small grants – targeted at “below the radar” community groups – The Community Development Foundation have produced a good briefing on this recently.
What do you think?
There are important messages in the Chief Medical Officers Report on Public Mental Health that will be welcomed by many – in particular her championing of the need for further investment in mental health services, reduction of waiting times and her call for greater support for people with mental health problems to maintain their jobs. There is a good section on the work of Time to Change a BIG lottery portfolio addressing stigma delivered by MIND and Rethink with strong support for its continuation.
Inequality is in there…just.
However, this is primarily a clinical report (not surprising with approximately 90% of the authors being medics) the wider social conditions that people live in receive insufficient attention. Frankly, given the evidence that the bottom quintile are more than twice as likely to be at risk of mental illness than the top quintile this is more than a small omission – this is very poor – not good use of the evidence.
This failure to give due weight to inequality and in particular the impact of poverty, financial insecurity and indebtedness (for more on indebtedness and mental health see my earlier blog here) on mental health reinforces the focus on clinical solutions to social causes. To the credit of the authors of Chapter 7 (Stansfield, McManus, Bhui and Jones) indebtedness is mentioned in Chapter 7 where they recommend:
“evaluation of the impact of debt reduction intervention programmes is needed. The fact that, before the recession, a quarter of people with mental disorder were in debt has direct implications for effective clinical assessments and care planning as well as for awareness in debt counselling agencies, utility companies and financial organisations”
Shamefully even this recommendation does not float through to the key recommendations made by the CMO.
This is further compounded by the absence of any critique of the impact of Department of Work and Pension policies on the wellbeing of people with mental health problems.
There is one mention of Work Capability Assessments in the whole document with no comment at all on the effectiveness of this service. The current IPPR North briefing “In Safe Hands? Rethinking Employment pathways for ESA claimants with mental health problems” notes that:
“People with mental health problems, who make up 40% of those going through the WCA are being let down by a system that appears to be neither effective nor accurate in determining the appropriate level of financial or employment support for claimant with mental health problems. Equally, the system fails to provide the kind of support for claimants that is adequate or appropriate for people with mental health problems”
This briefing goes on to say that “of the 137,130 participants in the Work Programme with mental and behavioural disorders only 7,060 (5.1%) were successful in sustaining jobs.”
This is not just about stigma – this is a system that is systematically failing people with mental health problems.
Lets take it out on wellbeing
Consistent with the narrow clinical view of much of the document is an attack on the concept of wellbeing. By the way, the CMO clearly thinks that it is more important to spend pages putting the boot into wellbeing than give adequate space to inequality and mental health. The report attacks the concept of wellbeing using a report by CLES consulting and the New Economics Foundation (Big Lottery Fund National Wellbeing Evaluation: Final Report 2013) as a straw man. Frankly, I think it is unacceptable that a senior civil servant uses an official government publication to attack the authors of a report who are given no right of reply in that document.
“One of the most problematic implications of the use of grey literature is the widespread adoption of scientific-sounding statements from well funded but poor-quality studies which are based on flawed methodology. To explain our standpoint more comprehensively, we turn to a case study of a widely cited report covering aspects of well-being and mental health: (prepared by CLES Consulting and New Economics Foundation, 2013). This report offers ‘lessons for service providers, commissioners, the Big Lottery Fund and Government”
This attack is part of a broader critique of the current state of play with regard to what we mean by the term ‘wellbeing’ this leads her to conclude that:
“Well-being interventions should not be commissioned in mental health as there is insufficient evidence to support this.”
Now precisely what does the CMO mean by the above sentence?
What do you think?
Just before the summer I participated in a round table discussion on the relationship between health, wellbeing and welfare rights services. This discussion was supported by the excellent Baring Foundation and involved a range of welfare rights organisations including the Advice Services Alliance, Youth Access, the Low Commission and others.
There is a growing body of experience and evidence across a wide range of advice services of the relationship between access to advice and health and wellbeing.
I have written before about the experience of Sheffield Mental Health CAB (now part of Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre) in this regard. What is clearer to me is that there is a strong relationship between increased vulnerability due to poor health and need for advice – I think the relationship is a bit like this:
The experience of MacMillan Cancer Care confirms this, in their report “Cancers Hidden Price Tag” they tell us that following a cancer diagnosis four in five people (83%) are affected and, on average are £570 a month worse off because of a cancer diagnosis with one in three people experiencing a loss in income averaging £860 a month.
Unfortunately it is still the case that many NHS commissioners are still unconvinced – they usually ask this question:
“Can you demonstrate that there is a causal link between receiving welfare rights advice and being well?”
They should actually be asking another question of course:
“What can we do to stop people with a progressive long term condition falling into poverty?”
For an eloquent and clear statement about the urgent need for reform of social welfare support see this 5 minute interview with Simon Duffy from the Centre for Welfare Reform.
What is to be done?
Despite these challenges and the continued attacks from central government on local authority funding there are some some opportunities that we need to respond to.
The Department of Health draft Care Act guidance recognises the importance of access to welfare rights and advice.
“Information and advice is fundamental to enabling people, carers and families to take control of, and make well informed choices about, their care and support and how they fund it”
The guidance notes that local authorities must ensure that information and advice services established cover more than just basic information about care and support.
The service should also address:
- prevention of care and support needs
- what to do in the event of abuse and neglect
This draft guidance combined with the focus on integration through the Better Care Fund has the potential to transform the position of welfare rights and advocacy provision in the health and social care sector.
It could help ensure that welfare rights services in particular are targetted on the most vulnerable, that their contribution to wellbeing is recognised and that the NHS understands the importance of jointly commissioning services with local government.
What do you think?