General Election 2024: Florence’s health and social care policy calls

“I love what I do, but I’m stretched beyond belief by the way things are now.”

At Florence, we’re hearing this from dedicated nurses and care assistants every day. And the broken system we work in has real-life impacts on patient care.

The UK General Election on July 4th is an opportunity to make care better for everyone. So what are the issues creating our healthcare crisis, and how can the next government fix them?

We answer below with ten critical policy calls for the next UK government….

5 major issues impacting health and social care

Right now, the NHS and social care are impacted by a range of critical and interlinked issues, from staffing to funding to public perception… 

1. Staffing shortages: The NHS is short of around 12,000 hospital doctors and over 50,000 nurses and midwives, according to the Nuffield Trust, and its workforce needs to grow twice as fast over the next decade to meet rising demand. Staffing problems are worse in social care with 152,000 vacant roles, with 627,000 extra people needed to work in social care by 2030/1.  

2. Chronic underfunding: Years of social care underfunding and a fragmented system have left the sector unable to meet our ageing population’s growing needs (which will only increase over time)​. Many people, particularly in poorer areas, are at risk of deteriorating health due to inadequate support​​. Access to social care is a lottery and can leave people with catastrophic care costs.  

3. Impact of Brexit and the shrinking economy: Brexit has made these issues worse by making the UK economy shrink, which in turn affects healthcare funding. While non-EU workers are filling staffing gaps (some of which were created by Brexit), the overall economic impact and a lack of long-term workforce planning has made it challenging to allocate the right resources to healthcare.

4. Systemic inefficiencies: Outdated technology and squeezed, inconsistent management make NHS working environments extremely challenging for frontline healthcare professionals; increasing burnout and cutting staff productivity and effectiveness. 

5: Public perception and morale: Trust in the NHS and clinical staff has decreased, particularly following the pandemic. Staff morale is at an all-time low, and we’re hearing of a noticeable negative shift in public support for healthcare professionals, influenced by strike actions and prolonged waiting times​.

10 policy calls for the next UK government

To improve health and social care in the UK for everyone, we’re calling for the next government to place ten urgent issues at heart of their policy.

1. Address staffing shortages

To grow our workforce and fix staffing shortages, the government should:

  • Increase recruitment efforts: Target recruitment drives both in the UK and internationally.
  • Improve retention: Enhance working conditions, offer better pay and provide career progression opportunities to retain existing staff​.
  • Support re-entry programs: Develop programs to encourage former healthcare professionals to return to work after leaving.

2. Increase funding for health and social care

Chronic underfunding is deeply affecting both the NHS and social care, and it will only get worse as our population ages​. The government should:

  • Honestly communicate: increasing taxation to fund healthcare is inevitable as our population ages, in order to give us the excellent care we expect for ourselves and loved ones.
  • Allocate additional funds: commit to sustainable, long-term funding for both health and social care (not short term cash injections or sticking plaster policies).
  • Invest in social care: Address funding disparities between NHS and social care to take pressures off NHS acute care​.

3. Create a national pay framework for social care workers

To make sure social care staff are paid fairly over the living wage and at parity with NHS staff (which will help improve recruitment and retention in the sector), the government should:

  • Standardise pay scales: Implement a national pay framework that offers fair and competitive wages for care workers.
  • Recognise and reward: Acknowledge the contributions of care workers and provide further learning and development opportunities for career advancement.

4. Enhance training and professional development

Ongoing training and professional development are essential for maintaining a skilled healthcare workforce​​. The government should:

  • Invest in training programs: Provide comprehensive training and development programs for healthcare professionals at all levels, and increase funding for training – including bringing back NHS bursaries for new nursing, midwifery and allied health students.
  • Support continuous learning: Encourage continuous professional development to keep healthcare workers updated with the latest practices and technologies.  

5. Prevent staff burnout and mental health crises

Workforce burnout is a critical issue impacting the mental health of healthcare professionals​ ​. The government should:

  • Implement support programs: Develop enhanced programs to support the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare workers.
  • Improve working environments : Take steps to unburden staff from workload stress and create a healthier work environment.

6. Seek to win back trust

Trust in our healthcare system has been eroded, particularly because of inconsistent government actions during the pandemic​ ​. The government should:

  • Enhance transparency: Communicate clearly and consistently about healthcare policies and initiatives, and follow through on promises made.
  • Engage the public: Launch fact-led campaigns to improve perception of health and social care. This can have the halo effect of increasing recruitment too.

7. Focus on Integrated Care Systems

Integrated care systems (ICS) can improve coordination between health and social care services​. The government should:

  • Support ICS development: Provide funding and support to develop and implement integrated care systems across the UK.
  • Promote collaboration: Encourage collaboration between healthcare providers, social care services, and community organisations to deliver holistic care.

8. Improve healthcare tech and management

Systemic inefficiencies like outdated technology and poor management get in the way of frontline staff being able to do their jobs. The government should:

  • Invest in modern technology: Upgrade the technology infrastructure across the NHS to improve productivity and efficiency.
  • Improve administrative processes: Embed consistent, informed good management practices and streamline admin tasks to take the burden off healthcare professionals.

9.  Introduce new performance and productivity measures

NHS​​ patient care will be improved by transparent focus on care settings’ productivity and performance. The government should:

  • Introduce performance metrics: Establish public-facing performance metrics to monitor and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery.  
  • Encourage innovation: Foster a culture of innovation by supporting new technologies and practices that enhance patient care.
  • Increase competition between providers: to allow patients greater choice over their healthcare provision.

10. Support health tech innovation

Finding new, tech-led ways to improve care is crucial for modernising our system and helping our workforce do more​. The government should:

  • Provide funding for innovation: Establish long-term funding mechanisms to support healthcare innovation and technology adoption.
  • Encourage capital investment: Create incentives for investment in health tech companies to drive innovation and growth.

What do we want from election candidates?

Once elected, we are calling for MPs to do everything they can to support an improved health and social care system reflecting the policy calls above. They should use their roles in their constituencies and parties to advocate for policies and actions that support health and social care both locally and nationally.

Our recommendations won’t be successful unless they’re coordinated through a detailed, long-term, funded plan.

We need a comprehensive plan involving all government departments to make sure every possible measure is being taken to improve the nation’s care, with the The Department of Health and Social Care taking a central role. All MPs have a role to push for support for this comprehensive health and social care plan within their parties.