“The future of health”: Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP

3 December 2014

Better treatments, new drugs and the latest technology means that people are living longer, which is undoubtedly a good thing. But our ageing population – as in many Western economies – does mean unprecedented challenges for our NHS, especially as many older people have complex, long term conditions and comorbidities.

The NHS is carrying out record numbers of treatments in rising to that demographic challenge. 50 per cent more people with suspected cancer are seen by the service now than in 2010. In the past four years, ten million people had an MRI scan and sixteen million people had a CT scan.

Which makes it all the more impressive that this has been combined with significant improvements in patient care. Hospital infections are at an all-time low, mixed sex wards are finally becoming a thing of the past, and the proportion of people who would both feel safe in an NHS hospital, and think they would be treated with dignity there, have never been higher.

I am proud of this Government’s commitment to the NHS. We protected the NHS budget, allowing us to hire 8,000 more doctors and 5,600 more nurses on our wards. And we have saved £20 billion by reducing waste and bureaucracy – money which has gone directly back into frontline services.

But as the way we use healthcare continues to change, the NHS must adapt accordingly. Nearly two months ago, NHS England published its Five Year Forward View, a document I welcome. The Government’s response – our long term plan for the NHS – has four pillars.

The first is funding for the NHS backed by a strong economy. Our NHS has an annual budget of £113 billion, and paying that bill is only possible when the government has a strong grip on the national finances. A failure to tackle their deficits meant Greece, Spain and Portugal had no choice but to cut their health budgets. We have been able to increase ours by £12.7 billion over the course of this Parliament.

The second pillar is integrated community care. The public doesn’t think in terms of primary and secondary care, but wants the system as a whole to work for them. Hospital care matters enormously, but we need a much greater focus on helping people to stay healthy and happy at home.

Through the Better Care Fund, we will see around 18,000 staff deployed in community roles next year. There will be an unprecedented joint effort by the NHS and local authorities to reduce hospital emergency admissions. It should see 163,000 fewer emergency stays in hospital for the most vulnerable and elderly, saving the NHS over £500 million in one year, and representing an historic first step in bringing about the integrated services successive governments have talked about for decades.

Innovation and efficiency make up the third pillar. The technological revolution we’ve seen in retail, travel and banking has not yet fully taken hold in healthcare.

Everyone should have online access to their medical records and be able to communicate with their doctor electronically. Hospital IT systems need to be effective and efficient, so that hardworking nurses can devote their time to patient care. Therefore I want the NHS to be paperless by 2018. Patients are more than consumers, of course, but they should nevertheless enjoy all the advantages of 21st century services.

Meanwhile, genomics and the life sciences promise to transform care and health outcomes, which is why the Government has championed them so passionately.

The final pillar – arguably the most important, but also the hardest to achieve – is cultural change. In the wake of Mid- Staffs, we have set the objective of becoming the most open and transparent healthcare system in the world. When patients are empowered to take decisions about their care, and where clinicians can compare their outcomes, performance improves. So we have launched myNHS – a first for any major healthcare economy. Patients will be able to look at the performance of their local hospital, GP surgery, care services and local authority. Whether diabetes care, hospital food standards or the performance of a local surgeon, it can all be found on myNHS. Transparency and honesty means standards can be driven up not by yet more targets, but through peer review, learning and the natural desire of every doctor and nurse to do the right thing for patients.

And we have introduced the toughest inspection regime in the world, celebrating good care, but confronting incidences where standards aren’t what we would all expect. Patients will be able to see CQC  risk ratings for GP practices, and we have already seen six of the eighteen hospitals placed into special measures turned around.

We are embarking on a journey. But our economy is growing, our NHS is rated the top-performing healthcare system in the world by the independent Commonwealth Fund, and NHS staff and their colleagues in social care are devoted to those they serve. I am completely confident the NHS will continue to blaze a trail in the years ahead.

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health

This blog was taken from an article written for the brochure that accompanied Reform’s major health conference on the 2 December 2014.

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