College publishes health priorities for the next UK government

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, which has Members throughout the UK and internationally, is calling for steps to support the medical professions’ wellbeing ahead of the UK General Election on 4 July. 

Publishing our health priorities for the next government, we want to ensure that employers “get the basics right” to improve healthcare staff wellbeing. 

This includes providing adequate facilities for rest (e.g. after night shifts), spaces to carry out non-clinical work, and easily accessible hot food and drink so that healthcare staff can keep refreshed during their shifts, including nightshifts, when hot meals are harder to source in hospitals. 

The College is also urging investment in the “social care” workforce, as this is vital to ensuring that care packages and rehabilitation services are quickly available for people awaiting hospital discharge. 

In 2022, the mean length of stay in an A&E department in England for a person aged over 80 was 15 hours – this is simply unacceptable and many longer stays are due to a lack of capacity in the “social care” sector.

In addition to the above measures, the College is urging the next government to:

  • Follow through on proposed new legislation making it an offence for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 to be sold tobacco products;
  • Introduce a sugar and salt reformulation tax to change the fiscal incentives in the food system to better support healthy diets;
  • Extend the ‘sugar tax’ to other products high in sugar, including sugary fruit juices, milkshakes and coffee chain frappé drinks, which in many instances contain ‘hidden’ sugar;
  • Legislate to restrict advertising on TV and online for products high in fat, salt or sugar, which encourage people to consume ‘unhealthy’ food and drink;
  • Introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol. Scotland and Wales have already introduced legislation enacting minimum unit pricing, and other parts of the UK must follow;
  • Restrict the advertising and marketing of alcohol products, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Commenting on the College’s health priorities, Professor Andrew Elder, President of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

The next government must be bold on the future of our NHS, and ambitious in improving the health of people across the UK. 

A recent report from the Health Foundation highlights solid public support for the NHS’s founding principles, including the principle that services be free at the point of use. Many people want to keep the current NHS funding model rather than alternatives, such as additional patient charges or a system of social health insurance. 

The College supports the founding principles of the NHS but we’re clear that in order to provide services that are free at the point of use, all political parties much be honest with people about the financial pressures that affect health service sustainability.

Additional investment in the NHS, including medical staff, is desirable and necessary. But we’re also calling for greater investment in the social care workforce. This is vital to ensure that care packages and rehabilitation services are quickly available for people awaiting hospital discharge. More needs to be done to prevent unnecessary hospitalisation and to get people home from hospital as soon as they are able.

Dr Sunil Bhandari, Vice-President for England and Wales at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, added:

As Sir Michael Marmot established in his “Health Equity in England” report, people can now expect to spend more of their lives in poor health and improvements to life expectancy have stalled. For women in the most deprived 10% of areas, health has continued to decline. 

In a country as wealthy as the UK, it is simply unacceptable that a person’s health can be determined by their income, their geographical location and state of available housing. The next government must tackle the increasing health inequalities head on.

The good news is that there are a range of policies that the next government could introduce to help people lead healthier lives for longer. This starts with ensuring a healthy standard of living for all and creating and developing healthy and sustainable places and communities. 

Our health priorities for the next government outlines a range of actions, to help reduce alcohol and smoking related harms, obesity and diabetes, and other health conditions. Finally, we want the next government deliver the Long Term Workforce Plan to ensure that we have enough medical staff, in order to meet demand.

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