This week, the focus is on delivering a better deal for patients. The Labour Party has promised a plan for social care similar to that for Nye Bevan’s NHS, while a new coalition of charities and patient organisations wants the patient voice to be better represented in digital policy-making. At the same time, there are concerns that the crisis at the fuel pumps is starting to affect patient care, as health workers struggle to fill up with petrol.
The social care system is “broken”, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, told the Labour Party conference on Tuesday. Describing the system as an “affront to a civilised society”, he promised that Labour would fix social care with a plan “as far reaching as Nye Bevan’s plan for the NHS.” It would include personalised care to help people stay at home and would end zero hours contracts, making sure that care workers were paid the living wage.
The UK Health Security Agency, a government body, has made three recommendations for changes to current Covid-19 guidance to hospitals, which it says will help hospitals treat patients more quickly. First, it says that physical distancing requirements should be reduced from two metres to one metre in areas “where patient access can be controlled”.
Second, it says that testing requirements for elective surgery should be relaxed. Patients who are fully-vaccinated, who have no Covid symptoms and who have taken a negative lateral flow test will no longer need to have a negative PCR test and self-isolate for three days beforehand.
Finally, it recommends that enhanced cleaning be discontinued in low-risk areas such as elective care, and replaced with standard cleaning procedures.
The shortage of fuel, caused by panic buying at petrol stations, is affecting vulnerable patients, newspapers have reported. Health and social care staff told the journal HSJ that nurses and carers were having difficulty getting hold of petrol, with the result that they might not be able to reach patients. One patient transport provider had turned down a request for a patient going to London because of the fuel shortage and because of climate protesters disrupting motorway transport.
The government has plans to ease the crisis by mobilising 150 army drivers to help deliver fuel to petrol stations.
NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould has said that it needs to be easier for NHS patients to opt out of sharing their health data. Speaking at the Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT) conference, Gould said the current data sharing system was “overly complicated.” A proposed plan to allow GP records to be shared more widely has been indefinitely postponed after criticism from campaigners. Gould said that the NHS would not continue with the plan until there was technology in place that allowed patients to choose retrospectively to delete data already collected.
A coalition has been formed of patient groups, health charities and royal colleges to champion the patient perspective in policies relating to digital health care. In the past, it says, the patient view has been under-represented. Over the next year, the coalition, which includes organisations such as the British Lung Foundation and the Royal College of Pathologists, wants to promote understanding of the patient experience of digital health, ensure patients receive the support needed to access digital health tech and inform policymakers on what good practice looks like.