Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Health.
More than sixty years ago, Nye Bevan said that “no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”. That remains true, but horrendous failings under the last Government at Mid Staffs and elsewhere left a stain on the public consciousness, and showed us the NHS wasn’t always what we’d hope for – so change is needed. And a huge part of that is about the culture of the service.
While we can be proud of this Government’s record, with an NHS rising to meet the challenge of an ageing population, I believe there are four things we need to improve the service even further in the future:
- First, to recognise – unlike Labour – that you can only deliver a strong NHS with a strong economy.
- Second, a revolution in care outside hospitals – within the next two decades the number of over 80s will double, and they need better preventative care:
- Third, embracing innovation, the latest technology and efficiency to make the £22 billion of savings talked about in the Forward View.
- Fourth – and most importantly – getting the culture right in the NHS so patients are always treated with dignity, respect, and the very highest standards of safety.
Today is the first anniversary of the Government’s response to the public inquiry into Mid Staffs. Since then, in the teeth of opposition from Labour, we’ve made great strides:
- A new inspection regime, the toughest and most independent in the world, has already inspected half of all hospitals.
- 18 hospitals – more than 10 per cent of all NHS acute trusts – have been put into special measures, with six turned round and out again, and major progress at nearly all the others.
- 5,000 more nurses on our wards than even a year ago.
- A new safety campaign, committed to halving avoidable harm – and that’s after hospital infection rates have already been halved in the last four years.
But what more can we do to secure the necessary culture change? I believe there are two things. We need to strengthen accountability to patients, and continue to push the transparency agenda forward:
- A single point of accountability for patients within the NHS is crucial. This year we restored the 1948 principle of GPs being personally responsible for the care of people on their lists – something Labour inexplicably abolished in 2004. All over 75s now have named GPs and from next year this will apply to every NHS patient.
- By joining up health and social care services for the first time, we can make named accountable clinicians a requirement for all social care service users.
The appalling care patients suffered at Mid Staffs showed us what happens when the Government forces the NHS to follow targets at any cost. Of course, targets matter – and the key A&E and waiting list targets have driven huge improvements. But, as Conservatives, we understand that the best solution to a problem cannot automatically be just introducing another target.
Instead, we are determined to make the NHS the most 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:
- This week, for the first time ever, we published outcome data every GP practice in the country. Patients will now be able to see how good their local practice is.
- Today, for the first time anywhere in the world, we are publishing on a single website easy-to-access surgery outcome data across a range of specialties – vital information for patients and families undergoing an operation.
- We are also launching myNHS, a first for any major healthcare economy. You will be able to look at the performance of your local hospital, GP surgery, care services and local authority. Whether diabetes care, hospital food standards or the performance of a local surgeon – you can find it all on myNHS.
- Next year, we will publish survival rates for individual hospitals for the four most common cancers – lung, breast, bowel and prostate.
Labour’s targets contributed to what Robert Francis called an ‘insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards’. They still refuse to apologise for the policy failures that led to Mid Staffs even today – so to ensure patients can be sure in the future of their right to information about their care, I am announcing a plan to guarantee it in the NHS Constitution.
Taken together, these measures will allow the NHS to blaze a trail – and help ensure patients get the compassionate, safe care we would all want for our own families.