Last week, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock gave his first speech at West Suffolk Hospital where he revealed three key priorities for the NHS: technology, workforce and prevention.
Speaking before the Health and Social Care Committee yesterday, he also gave more information on the work he intends to do.
A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Healthcare Leader
So what do the priorities mean for the health service?
Mr Hancock is known to be a keen supporter of the use of technology, which he believes is the “way forward”, “can save time” and “offer better care”.
According to him, it help could better integrate health and social care and allow the interoperability of the two.
Last week, Mr Hancock announced that nearly £500m will be invested in hospitals and trusts to save money and potentially reduce deadly medication errors by up to 50%, according to NHS England. As part of this commitment, the Government will work with Amazon to allow millions of patients to benefit from NHS Choice advice via voice-activated devices.
A user of GP at Hand, Mr Hancock argued that new technologies have the potential to significantly improve the number of patients accessing the NHS.
He said: “This sort of technology is coming. The question is, how can we bring it about in a way that best supports the NHS as a whole and ensures we get better care as a result.
“As I’ve described it, [it’s about] the holy trinity: better care for patients, easier for clinicians and staff, and saving money. To achieve all of those three, then that’s terrific and it means more money available for the front line and elsewhere.”
Responding to Health and Social Care Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston’s question in Parliament yesterday – on whether the NHS will move to a situation where people have access to their own digitally-held medical records, and can share them with whoever they want – Mr Hancock said it would be an “incredibly positive step to get there”.
He continued: “There is an awful lot of work to do to ensure that there are interoperable patient records.
“In the first instance, linking up primary care, secondary care, social care and other parts of the NHS [is a] vital and ongoing [process].
“When we get to the point of all patients being able to see what’s written on their record, that would be a very good place.”
Mr Hancock highlighted the vital role of the workforce in providing services and said he found it “heart-breaking” to see how undervalued they feel.
He suggested that more money will be invested in training. This will support more acute hospital nurses becoming advanced nurse practitioners and provide “more comprehensive care for patients’, among other things – so the right number of people with the right skills are able to provide the ‘safest, highest quality care to patients”.
Under his plans, there could be more staff in GP practices – such as pharmacists – to help surgeries tackle rising workload, more people working in social care, and more people accessing apprenticeships.
Mr Hancock told the Health and Social Care Committee that “we need a culture change rather than a revolution in the structures”.
He said: “What I’m really looking for is a change in the culture of how the NHS works in a number of different ways. Firstly, a culture of greater respect among the workforce.
“I found it extraordinary how a highly-motivated, intelligence workforce has to cope with these structures and sometimes very old-school management, which makes it far less pleasant than it should be to work in the NHS.
“The NHS ought to be the best place to work in the world […] but often, the ways of working […] get in the way of it being a brilliant employer.”
According to the latest NHS annual report into race equality, among the 18% of staff from a BME background working in the health service, only 7% are very senior managers. The report found that in the mental health sector alone, a quarter of BME staff experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from other colleagues in 2016.
Mr Hancock said that “diversity is critical”. To address workforce issues, he pledges to launch a consultation and set up a panel of clinical and professional advisers from the NHS and social care.
He added: “People cannot be expected to deliver world-class care when facing bullying and harassment on this scale. So the culture must change, the NHS will be better for it and I’m determined to lead this change from the top.”
Mr Hancock also argued that prevention is key in helping take pressure off staff, improve patient outcomes and keep people out of hospital.
“With an ageing society and 10 million more people projected to be living with a long-term condition by 2030, it’s more imperative than ever that we look to make a radical shift in our approach – focusing on preventative, joined up care that’s centred around individuals”, he said.
“To make the most of the extra £20bn taxpayers are rightly investing in our health service, we must take a holistic approach to prevention.”
At the moment, preventive work is being done through measures such as the Government’s commitment to invest £300m to ensure people can live five years longer by 2035 and plans to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
Mr Hancock expressed a dedication to achieving true parity between physical and mental health through approaches such as social prescribing, which can reduce the over prescribing of drugs and improve patient wellbeing.
He added: “The importance of seeing mental health in the same regard as we see physical health is absolutely paramount.
“There’s been a big change in society over the last five years, in which people have more confidence to talk about mental health concerns. I don’t yet think that that’s reflected in the NHS as a whole.”
Those priorities will only be achieved through “collaboration, not competition towards our common goal”, Mr Hancock concluded.
More details on future NHS and social care plans will be revealed in the spending review in the autumn.