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Matt Hancock sets out agenda for 'one NHS'

The new Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, has delivered his first public speech, setting out his priorities for the NHS since taking over the role from Jeremy Hunt last week. 


The MP for West Suffolk, he delivered this first address at his local hospital, West Suffolk in Bury St Edmunds, which he commended for its 'outstanding' CQC rating and its position as the best Trust in the country to work for in the latest national NHS staff survey.


He focused on three areas - workforce, technology and prevention.



Training, support, expanding apprenticeships and cultural change top this agenda. 


Matt Hancock said he wanted everyone to have a proper career path that they can develop and pledged to both support and challenge the workforce. The challenge comes in the form of changing the culture; to break down what he called the "tribal barriers" between clinicians and management and to reduce the division between community health services and social care.


He also said he was "horrified" at the numbers of staff who admit to feeling discriminated against and pledged that he would himself lead a programme for change. 


"I’m going to launch a consultation exercise on workforce issues. And I’ll be setting up a panel of clinical and professional advisers, from a cross-section of the NHS and social care workforce. And I want everyone who gives their lives to this amazing vocation to respond to our consultation with their views.


"There is every reason why, with determination and the right caring, collaborative and supportive approach the NHS can be the best employer in the world to work for, with high morale at all levels."



It comes as no surprise that technology is one of Matt Hancock's top priority items, given that he has already championed the digital transformation of government. 


"Technology used right is a catalyst for greater connectivity and empowerment – on both sides. Not only can the right use of technology save time and money, it can improve patient safety."


To help unlock the potential of "tech transformation", Matt Hancock announced a half billion pound package, with £400 million to go towards new technology in hospitals which makes patients safer, makes every pound go further and helps more people access health services at home. "It will be another major step along the road to full provider digitisation."


A further £75 million will be available to Trusts to help them move to state-of-the-art electronic systems that save money, give clinicians more time to spend on patients and reduce potentially deadly medication errors by up to 50% when compared with paper systems. 


There are strings attached though.


"This money is just the start, and the entire £20 billion proposed for the NHS will be contingent on modern technological transformation."


Data standards and workforce support are also promised to support this change, which requires a cultural shift. "The big part is embedding a culture of always looking for the best possible technology and embracing it. I want to drive that culture change."


There was a warning for suppliers too: "We will work with suppliers who want to embrace this change. And I’m crystal clear that suppliers who drag their feet or threaten to stand in the way won’t be suppliers for long."



This requires a radical shift in the approach to healthcare to keep people out of hospital by focusing on preventative, joined-up care that's centred around individuals.


Prevention, like technology, he says, is "mission critical" to the long-term sustainability of the health and social care system. It means keeping people healthy and treating problems quickly; empowering people by giving the tools they need to manage their own health needs closer to home; and delivering care in the right place in settings that suit patients and their needs.


This will be addressed further in the green paper on social care to be published in autumn.


"I will be spearheading work across government to support our healthcare services in helping more people to lead happy, healthy lives."



Commenting on the speech, Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers says: "It is encouraging that Matt Hancock has been so quick to recognise the urgency of some of the workforce challenges facing health and social care.

"NHS Trust leaders tell us that concerns over staffing are their number one problem.

"Our workforce report showed that in the face of a relentless rise in demand NHS staff have too often found themselves overstretched, and placed under intolerable pressure without adequate support or reward. That is demoralising for staff, bad for recruitment and retention, and impacts on the quality of patient care.

"We strongly endorse Mr Hancock’s commitment to tackle bullying and discrimination, and to promoting diversity at leadership level, and we look forward to contributing to the forthcoming consultation.

"We have taken some steps but recognise there is still much more to do.

"Our report with The King’s Fund this week highlighted the difficulties Trusts face in recruiting and retaining senior leaders.  


"We also welcome Mr Hancock’s focus on the opportunities presented by digital technology to support better care for patients, and to improve efficiency.

"It is vital in the coming months that he engages with frontline Trusts to develop these priorities, to make sure they can be translated into action.”


The response from UNISON was also broadly positive. Head of Health, Sara Gorton says:  "Hardworking health staff will be heartened by the government’s new focus on the NHS workforce, and its commitment to tackling the issues that have such an impact on how they do their jobs.


"It's reassuring that the Health Secretary acknowledges the huge scale of the task ahead to reverse years of damaging staff shortages, and a bullying culture that's prompted many to leave jobs they love.


"A comprehensive, fully funded training programme is long overdue for all staff. Those doing non-clinical jobs play a vital role too in caring for patients. They should also have opportunities to learn new skills and move into better paid, more highly skilled work. 


"There's hope that the success of the recent pay deal will lead to unions and employers agreeing a new national scheme for apprenticeship pay. Expanding apprenticeships will be crucial to delivering an NHS fit for the future. But they must be paid a decent wage if the NHS is to attract the best talent in a competitive market."


"Listening to the views of staff across the health service through their unions, and acting on suggestions made, will stand the NHS in good stead as it strives to care for all those that will need its support in the years to come."


However, Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth said patients would feel "sorely let down" that reducing waiting lists was not a top priority.