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NHS long term plan is to prove care for all

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock (centre) with NHS staff during a recent visit to a hospital

2019 WILL be an important year for the NHS – and for the many readers of The Voice who depend upon it. Recently, we launched the NHS Long Term Plan, our ten-year plan to secure our health service for the future.

Funded by an extra £20.5 billion per year of taxpayers’ money by 2023/24, the plan has been developed by NHS England and informed by thousands of conversations with doctors, nurses, patients and community groups, resulting in a comprehensive blueprint for what the NHS should focus on over the next 10 years.

Its simple aim is to ensure the NHS continues to deliver outstanding care for all of us when we need it most. But it is also, we believe, a chance to tackle some of the big inequalities in health that affect certain parts of the black community.

Here are five key areas where I think the plan will make a big difference.

First, the plan focuses on the prevention of ill-health, which includes continuing our efforts to reduce the devastating impact of diabetes – a disease that is significantly more common in people from black African or African Caribbean heritage.

There will be a major increase in NHS support to help people manage their diet and lifestyles, through education and digital self-management tools, as well as doubling the number of people who can access the Diabetes Prevention Programme, to help manage or avoid their risk. And the NHS will also test an offer for very low-calorie diets – which can put type 2 diabetes into remission for some people.

Second, it will improve how the NHS responds to some of the big killers like cancer, heart disease and stroke, with a focus on earlier detection and diagnosis, better treatment and more support to help people recover. In 10 years, 55,000 more people each year will survive cancer for at least five years and up to 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases will have been prevented.

The plan will also help us to unlock the potential of next generation care, such as using genetic testing to better diagnose and target treatment for rare diseases and cancer. And this will improve the availability of cutting-edge techniques, such as proton beam therapy.

Thirdly, we want to make this country the best place in the world to give birth – part of this means action to support parents during and after pregnancy, particularly among communities known to be at particular risk of complications.

We know, for instance, that there are some worrying differences in outcomes among black women giving birth on the NHS, which is why we are building on pilot schemes like the Neighbourhood Midwives programme in East London to improve continuity of carer.

The scheme will be specifically targeted towards women from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, with a commitment to make sure 75% of women from BAME communities get the same midwife throughout their pregnancy by 2028.

Fourth, the plan will help to transform mental health support for black communities. It is a tragedy in the modern era that children growing up now are more likely to be affected by poor mental health than those of previous generations.

That’s why the plan pledges better access to mental health services, more support for children in schools, faster access to specialist therapies, and improvements in how children are looked after in hospital. The NHS 111 helpline will provide 24/7 support and tailored mental health support extended to 18 to 25-year-olds, helping thousands more tackle mental ill-health issues before, during and after the transition to adulthood.

Finally, underpinning all of this, our Long Term Plan acknowledges and supports the vital contribution that black people make to our NHS, and commits to go much further to ensure there is fair representation at all levels of the NHS.

Of a workforce of more than 1.2million, almost 70,000 identify as black or black British. This plan rightly places respect, equality and diversity at the heart of its workforce implementation strategy, to be announced later this year.

We’ll also continue to support the important work of the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) – an NHS organisation that ensures BAME employees receive equal opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace. WRES will receive an extra £1 million a year of funding from NHS England to extend its work to 2025.

We also want senior management teams and boards to more closely represent the diversity of the local communities they serve, so we’re asking each NHS organisation to set targets for BAME representation across leadership teams and within the local workforce by 2021/22.

Like many readers of The Voice, I cherish the NHS because I’ve seen first-hand the extraordinary life-saving care it provides.

This Long Term Plan will make sure it can continue delivering for us all in the years ahead, while closing the gap on some of the big health inequalities facing our communities.

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