Labour peer and professor Lord Winston has admitted he is “not optimistic” about the future of the NHS as the health service celebrates its 75th anniversary.

The distinguished professor said he did not believe enough money was being spent organising how the NHS is run and the “national poverty” was undermining the delivery of the health service.

“We’ve got the largest employer, perhaps in the world…and the amount of money spent on the administration is absolutely insignificant,” he told Sky News presenter Mark Austin.

“And actually, the need to administer that far more effectively is really clear – it doesn’t matter whether that is in the health service or general practice or certainly in social care, but I think that’s one thing we need to keep in mind.”

Lord Winston said an increase in funding for primary care in recent years had “not actually helped the health service that much” because the key issue was “national poverty”, which he described as a “massive problem in Britain”.

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“We are a poor country because we’ve not managed our finances,” he said, adding that poverty had also had a knock-on effect on education and the environment.

More on Nhs

The Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London appeared alongside Dame Clare Gerada, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who also said the NHS was picking up wider problems in society.

“Over the last 10-15 years we have seen social determinants of health get worse – green spaces, homelessness, poor housing, poor nutrition – and the NHS is picking up those issues,” she said.

“We’ve also seen our economy go down.

“It’s very complex. If you are saying to me should the NHS change, then yes of course it should change.

“We need to be delivering much more care – in primary care, in general practice and in the community.”

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Lord Winston ‘not optimistic on NHS’

Dame Clare said that unless there were three major shifts – in prevention, personalised care and shifting resources in primary care, “then I do fear for the future of the NHS”.

Lord Winston and Dame Clare made the remarks in a special programme by Sky News to mark the 75th anniversary, asking the central question: can we mend the NHS?

As well as Lord Winston, other NHS experts have cast doubt over the future of the health service.

In a speech to mark the anniversary of its creation, Amanda Pritchard, the head of the NHS in England, warned the service faced a future of “enormous challenges” as a “cornerstone of national life” in Britain.

She said its staff were battling a combination of COVID backlogs and record demand for services – challenges that workers were ready to meet “head on”.

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The state of the NHS explained

Meanwhile, other experts warned that the NHS – created in July 1948 – may not reach its 100th birthday without more resources and fundamental reforms.

The warning, by three leading thinktanks – the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust – blamed short-term policymaking and a decade of underinvestment, which they said had left the NHS in a “critical condition”.

Separately, NHS Providers – which represents hospital trusts – warned of “enormous pressures” amid a record rise in demand for care and “the biggest financial squeeze in its history”.

Last week, Rishi Sunak unveiled the NHS workforce plan, which would see £2.4bn funnelled into solving the severe staffing crisis in NHS England.

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NHS in ‘critical condition’ at 75 years

Ministers are also aiming to more than halve the number of NHS staff being recruited from abroad in the next 15 years, in order to train more NHS staff domestically to “reduce reliance on international recruitment and agency staff”.

Read more:
NHS at 75: Who was founder Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan?
Health secretary refuses to accept austerity cuts contributed to NHS woes

Staffing vacancies currently stand at 112,000, with fears shortfalls could grow to 360,000 by 2037.

The additional funding will help train “record numbers of doctors, nurses, dentists, and other healthcare staff” in England, with plans to employ 300,000 extra staff in the coming years. The funding works out at approximately £21,000 per vacancy.

Asked about the NHS workforce plan announced by the prime minister last week, Lord Winston warned it will take at least a decade to have an impact, especially because the NHS was “losing people all the time” due to disenchantment and early retirement.

“That’s an issue which the government has failed completely to tackle,” he said.


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