Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Health, and is MP for South-West Surrey.
On Wednesday we reached agreement with the BMA on the biggest changes to the new Junior Doctors contract for 17 years – including vital changes to help deliver a seven day NHS. It will be good for patients, but also for doctors who will see the maximum hours they can be asked to work capped and more flexible rostering to help those with family responsibilities. But these changes are only part of a broader programme of NHS reform as part of our ambition that NHS care should be the safest and highest quality available anywhere. Next steps include progress in eight more critically-important areas:
- Seven day hospital care. The junior doctors contract is only part of the picture. We need to reform the consultants contract, make key diagnostic services seven day and ensure all hospitals meet the four clinical standards most relevant to reducing the ‘weekend effect’ for those admitted under urgent or emergency conditions. 27 hospitals will be meeting those standards by the end of next March.
- Seven day GP care. We need to make sure people are not waiting too long to see a GP, with everyone able to book routine GP appointments at evenings and weekends as part of the seven day revolution.
- Transparency – with England becoming the first country in the world to publish Ousted-style ratings in July for the overall quality of care in every part of the country for cancer, maternity, diabetes, dementia, mental health and treatment of those with learning disabilities. We already publish more information about the quality of care provided than any other country (available on MyNHS) but this will take the transparency revolution to the next stage – putting patients in the driving seat for the care they receive.
- Reducing avoidable mortality. Still we have around 150 avoidable deaths every week in the NHS (about average internationally but still far too high) – so this year all NHS trusts are publishing estimates of their own avoidable mortality rates, alongside plans to bring it down. We will focus particularly on stillbirths, neonatal deaths and injuries and maternal deaths.
- Creating an open learning culture. Still doctors find it too hard to speak out when they make or see mistakes, meaning we do not learn the appropriate lessons and disseminate them throughout the NHS. I have said I want the NHS, the fifth largest organisation in the world, to be the world’s largest learning organisation and we are legislating to allow ‘safe spaces’ for doctors and nurses to discuss ways of improving patient safety and care without having to worry about litigation or disciplinary procedures.
- Integration of health and social care. Too often people are pushed from pillar to post as either the NHS or the social care system tries to duck responsibility for people’s care. But the result is too many hospital beds filled with people who are medically fit for discharge but unable to leave – piling pressure on our A & Es. Only true integration of the health and social care systems will make this happen – and Manchester looks like it will get there first.
- Mental Health. Our plans will see a million more people treated annually by 2020, a transformation of mental health for children and young people and a dramatic increase in the availability of behavioural therapies for those with depression and anxiety.
- Efficiency and proper use of technology. Ground-breaking procurement and rostering reforms, following Lord Carter’s report, will make sure every penny possible is spent on frontline patient care and bureaucracy is slashed. This can save £5 billion a year by 2020 – using modern IT systems, for example, so doctors and nurses are not spending time filling out forms when they could be spending time with patients. With more flexible contracts we can also reduce use of agency staff and locum doctors which are expensive and provide less continuity of care for patients than those on regular contracts.
A truly seven day NHS is a clinical, moral and (thanks to David Cameron and the Conservative Party) now a political cause, backed by a £10 billion real terms increase in the annual NHS budget. It is a cause also backed by the countless stories from patients, testimonies of doctors and academic studies which have shone a spotlight on the problem of weekend care. Combined with these other changes we can ensure not only that NHS care is high quality, but also that it is affordable for taxpayers – and retain our place as the true party of the NHS.