Dr. Charles Armitage co-founded Florence in 2016. After a challenging 2023 in care, he predicts turbulence ahead for leaders...
We’re closing out another rocky year in the UK’s health and social care sector.
After three years dominated by Covid, 2023 has been the start of the rebuild. So what will 2024 bring for health and social care providers across the country?
To answer, here are my five predictions for 2024.
Prediction 1: Demand will continue to outstrip capacity
NHS waiting lists are still climbing as the Covid backlog works through the system.
In social care, many providers are being paid less than the cost of delivering services by local authorities - and inflation is pushing all costs up further. So providers are either handing back local authority contracts, or going under.
In hospitals, patients are also being delayed from going home because of a lack of services to support them there. (A report by the BMJ earlier this year showed that 1 in 6 hospital inpatients are waiting for provision of community services.)
Until we sort out this disconnect between health and social care systems, we will never achieve a good result for patients, staff and taxpayers.
Prediction 2: International recruitment will slow
One of the great success stories of 2023 has been the surge in international recruitment of specialist talent for our health and care systems.
Changes to the salary thresholds of the Health and Care visa led to more than 140,000 care workers and their dependents arriving in the UK in the year to September 2023.
We are nowhere near solving the sector’s recruitment and retention challenges, but we have at least returned to a pre-pandemic norm for staffing.
Unfortunately, this will change in 2024.
In December, the Health and Care Worker visa rules were changed, so visa-holders aren’t able to bring their dependents to the UK.
This will likely reduce the amount of overseas workers joining our health and care system, continuing to stretch the capacity of our current staff and impact the quality of care people receive.
Prediction 3: A Labour gov will continue in Conservative footsteps
Bookies are betting a May General Election is most likely next year, with odds of a Labour majority at ⅛.
That means short of something totally unpredictable happening, Keir Starmer will be the next PM (and he and Labour have stayed quiet on their plans for health and social care so far).
Wes Streeting, the Health and Social Care Secretary in waiting, has given some indications - although his plans for the sector sounds surprisingly Conservative.
Expect more privatisation of healthcare systems and prioritisation of technology and innovation. Do not expect more money.
Prediction 4: Tax increases will fund care
The cost of care is increasing. People are living longer with increasing care needs.
Our system hasn’t been properly funded to cater to the demand for years - and anyone needing care right now will be feeling the pain of this.
Sadly there is no magic money tree to provide the investment the system needs. We, as a country, will need to wake up to the fact that high quality healthcare isn’t free.
As our population changes, we will need to pay more through taxation to receive the level of care we expect.
Prediction 5: Care providers will turn to technology
Building a resilient and productive health or care workforce is the cornerstone of facing the challenges of 2024 and beyond.
This requires two things: continuous up-skilling and technological adoption.
Building continuous professional development and lifelong learning into your culture means your service can provide higher quality care delivered by an engaged, retentive workforce.
Alongside this drive for learning and development, health and care providers need to invest in the systems that empower their workforce to deliver care.
Healthcare provision of the future will be increasingly decentralised.
Virtual wards, remote monitoring and wearables will shift the delivery of care from hospitals and into the community.
Providers will need to be able to flex their workforce to changing demands and have the systems that support them in providing cost effective, high quality care.
A strong technology platform will be the number one tool for managing the distributed, flexible healthcare workforce future.
We’re going to get a Labour government. They will not deliver the long term funding solutions that health and social care need. Financial and workforce pressures will persist. Don’t expect the system to come to your rescue.
But health and social care providers have agency. With strong leadership and tech adoption there are ways you can build a resilient and high quality workforce, and it is a challenge for all of us to make those changes together.
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