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Healthcare priorities for new government

Health care leaders and opinion formers share their thoughts on how the new Government can transform the way we provide care, and make the health sector a better place to work
  1. Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs

General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS, the first port of call for most people when they need medical help. But it is in crisis and patients are bearing the brunt, often struggling to get the appointments they need. We simply don’t have enough GPs or nursing staff for the number of patients who need our care. We are delivering millions more appointments than we were five years ago, with 880 fewer fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs. But we can’t keep doing more with less.   

At the same time our buildings and equipment are not fit to deliver 21st-century care due to lack of investment. Mouldy walls and leaky roofs have a huge impact on the care and access to care we can provide for patients.

Our manifesto outlines seven solutions that, regardless of the election outcome, we are calling for the next government to implement – including funding for recruitment and retention and investment in improving infrastructure. To deliver the improvements in primary care and preventive medicine needed by the public, general practice needs a larger share of the NHS budget than it currently receives. It is a ‘rescue package’ to save general practice and safeguard its future so our patients can receive the care they deserve. In the run-up to the election and beyond, we urge all the political parties to take heed.

  1. Professor Ian Peate RN OBE FRCN; Editor in Chief British Journal of Nursing; Consultant Editor Journal of Paramedic Practice; Consultant Editor International Journal for Advancing Practice

I see the following as essential priorities for nursing staff:

  • Improving pay and job satisfaction to attract and retain talented nurses through fair compensation and clear career progression pathways.
  • Ensuring fair treatment for internationally educated nurses and providing support to create an equitable healthcare system where everyone feels valued and safe.
  • Enhancing working conditions, including adequate staffing ratios and robust mental health support with dedicated funding to alleviate stress and burnout among nurses.
  • Strengthening legal protections to safeguard whistleblowers and to protect the title of 'nurse,'. Doing this can maintain high standards of care and professional integrity.
  • Explicit government support for nurses' professional growth, including ring-fenced funding for nursing degrees with guaranteed employment for graduates.

These critical initiatives are not mere aspirations but urgent imperatives. We cannot maintain a world-class healthcare and social care service or attract highly skilled nurses with insufficient funding—it simply cannot be done on a shoestring. Right now, politicians and government leaders must prioritise substantial investment in our NHS and its workforce to ensure it meets the nation's needs for the next 75+ years.

  1. Caroline Abrahams CBE; Age UK Charity Director

At Age UK we would like to see the next Government ensure every Integrated Care System has an Ageing Well Strategy, including investing in public health, in primary care and community services, that offer coordinated support for people living with long-term conditions and/or frailty. Investment is also needed in the workforce, premises and technology.

The NHS becomes more important as people age. Older people need to know that they can see their GP relatively quickly if something seems amiss, get that hospital test done or have a cataract operation without undue delay.

We would like to see an ambitious preventative public health strategy encouraging physical activity among older people, building on Sport England’s ‘we are undefeatable’ programme. We need a significant expansion of the number of ‘integrated neighbourhood teams’ bringing together health and social care professionals with a range of other support workers to help older people with complex needs.

 While there is an urgency for waiting lists to fall and for the NHS workforce plan to be implemented, we must also fix our broken social care system. It’s down to the new Government, to provide the leadership and resources to make this happen.

  1. Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive, NHS Providers

The new health and social care secretary’s in-tray will be piled high. Ministers must hit the ground running and get to grips with pressing NHS workforce challenges if political pledges such as waiting times cuts are to be achieved.

Before the general election was called, NHS Providers published a vision of how hospital, mental health, community and ambulance trusts can work with the government to shape the ‘next generation’ NHS.  

Priorities include nurturing a thriving health and care workforce.

Yet again trusts are dealing with the disruptive effects of another five-day strike by junior doctors across England. We need urgent action post-election to address the ongoing pay dispute with medics. All NHS staff including nurses are waiting for this year's pay award, due in April. Trust leaders are worried this delay is eroding further already low morale across the health service. Announcing this year’s public sector pay awards needs to be a priority.

Meanwhile, a year on from publication of the long-term workforce plan for the NHS trusts are grappling still with staff burnout and more than 100,000 unfilled jobs.

It's vital that the government invests in the NHS workforce to restore staff confidence and reset the relationship with NHS employees.

  1. Dr Bryan McIntosh; Reader in Healthcare Management, Brunel University

The next Government will need to shift the NHS away from a model geared towards late diagnosis and treatment, to a model where more services are delivered in local communities. This includes harnessing the power of technologies, notably AI to transform the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services. Embedding a greater focus on prevention throughout the entire healthcare system and supporting services has the potential to save and transform the lives of millions.

The next Government needs to incentivise staff to carry out additional appointments out of hours. This will be difficult with restricted budgets but pooling resources across neighbouring hospitals to introduce shared waiting lists to allow patients to be treated quicker is a way to challenge these issues. Recognising the urgent need to bring down waiting lists, the Government will need to utilise capacity in every area, including the independent sector to ensure patients are diagnosed and treated more quickly.

The next Government needs to end the workforce crisis across both health and social care. A long-term independent workforce plan across sectors can deliver a workforce trained to meet the grievous challenges the country faces. Failure to address all the “needs” will not just leave the NHS in a vulnerable position but damage the very fabric of our country.

  1. Naser Turabi, Director of cancer intelligence at Cancer Research UK

Cancer is the defining health issue of our time. Almost 1 in 2 people will get cancer in the UK, including an estimated 2.2m within the next parliamentary term. Tackling challenges in cancer research and care must be a top priority for an incoming government.

Countries with long-term plans for cancer see the biggest improvements in cancer survival. Cancer Research UK wants to work with the next government to deliver a fully-funded 10-year cancer strategy, which provides the investment and reform to NHS services needed to give patients the care they deserve. 

Thanks to research, cancer survival in the UK has doubled over the past 50 years. To ensure future progress the next government must fund innovation and solidify the UK’s position as a leading science and research power. 

Preventing people from getting cancer will save lives and reduce NHS pressures. The next government should re-introduce the Tobacco and Vapes Bill in their first King’s speech, to help end cancers caused by smoking.

Our analysis shows that policies to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer could prevent a staggering 34,000 deaths from the disease within a decade. This election must be a turning point for cancer.

  1. Mithran Samuel; Editor of Community Care

The following need to be the healthcare priorities for the new government:

  1. A new Mental Health Act: this was a failed manifesto promise from the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto, so it is right that Labour has promised to legislate for this in its first year. This should mean many fewer people being detained in hospital or subject to community treatment orders, with substantial reductions in their use for black people, autistic people and those with learning disabilities.
  2. Invest in community mental health services and support: a reformed act will only work if complemented by investment in provision which would prevent people with mental health needs reaching crisis point and requiring hospitalisation. A particular priority here is the approximately 2,000 people with learning disabilities and autistic people detained in hospital at any one time, for whom successive government initiatives have failed to provide sufficient appropriate alternatives to what is often dehumanising inpatient care.
  3. Reinvest in district nursing: for an ageing population, many more of whom are living with long-term conditions, the huge decline in the number of district nurses over the past decade is a scandal. The new government must reinvest in this vital service to help many more people maintain their independence and prevent unnecessary hospital admissions.


  1. Lucina Rolewicz; Researcher at the Nuffield Trust

The first ever long-term NHS workforce plan was a seminal moment and set out ambitious plans for training the next generation of NHS staff, but there are no firm plans to tackle the ‘leaky pipeline’ of trainee dropouts or new staff leaving careers early. The next government will need to reduce our dependency on international recruitment, reduce leaver rates and shore up the domestic training pipeline.  Both main political parties appear to have committed to delivering this plan, but it is not clear from the manifesto pledges that either party will stump up the significant cash injection needed annually to meet recruitment targets.

Around one in five nurses have left NHS hospital and community employers within two years of starting work and we have seen a 20% fall in the number of students accepted onto nursing courses in England since 2021. Unless more nurses are incentivized to study and stay in their careers, e.g. through costed policies such as gradually writing off student debt – then we’ll continue to see nurses leaving too early.  Pumping more staff in without addressing reasons for leaving is short-sighted policy making and a poor return on expensive investment in the workforce plan, something the NHS can ill-afford.

  1. Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation

The UK is in the grip of a heart care crisis. Over 50 years, we saw huge strides in improving outcomes for heart patients, but this progress is now at risk. The scale of the challenge is immense, with early heart disease deaths rising to a 14-year high - but it is not impossible to reignite progress. This new Government can save countless more lives from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by taking the right action now.

Record-breaking numbers of people are waiting for urgent heart care, and many are waiting longer than they should. This can be dangerous, as long waits for time-sensitive cardiac care increase the risk of death and disability. 

Bringing down waiting lists will take time, so patients must be sufficiently supported while they wait. Alongside a laser-like focus on immediate measures to support the workforce, the Government must also ensure that the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan has the funding and data needed to prioritise and deliver robust cardiac workforce planning. 

To future proof the system and ensure people live well, for longer, more must be done to stop people from getting heart disease in the first place. The new Government has the power to make our society a healthier place to be through measures like restricting junk food advertising. Reintroducing the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and implementing a “polluter pays” tobacco levy on tobacco company profits would also help to reduce health harms from smoking.  

Alongside preventing heart disease and ensuring today’s patients get timely treatment, we also need to supercharge research in the UK, so patients continue to benefit from the most advanced treatments for heart disease in the future.

There’s never been a better time for our new Government to show it is serious about improving the health of the nation’s hearts. This is why we need a dedicated heart disease action plan.

  1. Charlotte Wickens, Policy Advisor, The King’s Fund

Whoever forms the next government will have a busy to-do list on health and social care. The King’s Fund’s top three priorities would be to improve access to out-of-hospital care, make careers in health and social care more attractive and tackle the biggest risk factors affecting people’s health. This means that the next government needs to bolster primary and community services so that people can get care closer to home, alongside prioritising the prevention of ill health. This would help people live healthier lives, diagnose illness earlier and provide people with more options to manage their health beyond having to turn up at over-stretched hospitals. But of course, none of this is possible without a valued and supported workforce, so there must be government action to stem the flow of staff leaving the sector.

A new government should deliver the long-term workforce plan but go further on retention by embracing flexible working and addressing deep-seated cultural challenges to tackle widespread reports of bullying and discrimination. And, while it may not have been a popular topic during the election campaign, the next government urgently needs to bring forward meaningful reform to the social care sector.

  1. Katie Reade, Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Hospice UK

Palliative and end-of-life care is a vital part of a healthcare system, and at Hospice UK we’ve worked with Marie Curie, Together for Short Lives, Sue Ryder, and the National Bereavement Alliance to create a joint manifesto for palliative and end-of-life care, calling all political parties and candidates to commit to policies aimed at making sure everyone affected by dying, death and bereavement gets the best possible care and support.

We’ve called for a new funding solution for hospices and palliative and end-of-life care to end the postcode lottery in access. This includes ensuring that hospices are sustainably funded so they can continue to provide their vital services.

We also want to see the introduction of a national delivery plan for palliative and end-of-life care in every nation to support the delivery of local services. The plan should enable commissioning services that meet the needs of the entire population and ensure access to care, no matter where people live.

Thirdly, we’re calling for a guarantee that palliative and end-of-life care services meet everyone’s needs, including those of people dying at home. This requires personalised care and support planning, sharing digital care plans, and involving those with direct experience in designing services. We also want to see action to ensure that nobody dies in poverty and tackle inequalities in palliative and end-of-life care.

Finally, we want to see improved support for families and carers of people with terminal illnesses. This includes better identification and assessment of carers' needs, financial and bereavement support, a cross-government bereavement plan, and extending statutory bereavement leave.

  1. Pamela Healy, Chief Executive, British Liver Trust

Liver disease and liver cancer account for over 18,000 deaths each year. Deaths have sadly increased by 400% in two generations, while rates of death from other non-communicable diseases have broadly remained flat. The next Government must prioritise liver disease and liver cancer as too often they are omitted from health strategies.

We need to significantly improve the early diagnosis of liver disease and liver cancer to reduce mortality and hospitalisation rates. There is a need for routine early detection using fibrosis assessments in primary and community settings.

90% of liver disease is lifestyle related. To deliver an NHS fit for the future, we must also address the social and commercial determinants of health, which drive obesity and alcohol misuse in the population. We need a comprehensive alcohol strategy to tackle the affordability, promotion and availability of alcohol, introduce minimum unit pricing in England, and bring forward policies to reduce the quantities of foods high in fat, salt and sugar from the food system.

Finally, the new Government must address the national shortage of liver nurse specialists and upskill independent and primary care nurses so that we reduce geographic variations in care. Nurses can play a key role in assessing fibrosis and providing lifestyle interventions.