Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and is MP for South West Surrey.
As we celebrate the 70th birthday today, some on the left will try to claim ownership of the NHS. They couldn’t be more wrong.
For a start, the very thing that the public love about a universal health service is that it belongs to everyone: rich, poor, old, young, and people of every creed, colour and political persuasion.
It is a little known fact that the Health Minister who announced plans for the first universal healthcare system in 1944 was in fact the Conservative MP for Croydon North, Sir Henry Willink. His white paper, with cross-party support, proposed a new service to provide medical advice and treatment for everyone.
His 1944 public information message made this promise to “every man, woman and child in this country, whatever your income…there will be no charge for treatment.” All three parties had the establishment of the NHS in their 1945 manifestos. Of course Labour’s Nye Bevan deserves huge credit for making this promise a reality in 1948. But in its remarkable 70 year history the NHS has actually been under the stewardship of Conservatives for 16 years longer than under Labour.
Over that period what’s become clear is that the greatest gift any government can give the NHS is decent economic growth – creating the jobs and tax revenues which to fund a tax-funded service. The only reason we were able to have a discussion about increasing NHS funding earlier this month was because of 3.2 million jobs created since 2010.
But as Conservatives we know how wisely you spend money matters as much as how much you spend. So the new settlement will be a something for something deal that avoids the pitfalls of the 2002 spending boost whichm according to the Kings Fund, saw 43 per cent of the uplift spent on higher pay and prices.
That is why we have asked for real productivity reforms in the ten year plan the NHS is now producing, as well as five new financial tests including that all NHS organisations returning to financial balance and marked progress in reducing the variation in clinical and financial performance which too often exists between one hospital and the next.
We also know that raising standards is not just about funding. Excellence needs to go alongside equity. We were one of the first systems in the world to say your family’s care should never depend on your family’s money and 70 years on we can all be rightly proud of this pledge and its endurance. But for the grandfather with a stroke, the mum giving birth, or the child with sepsis, a world-class healthcare system is about the excellence of care as well as easy access to it.
So we can be proud that since 2010 – despite the financial squeeze – patient outcomes are better for almost every condition, for example with 7,000 more people alive today due to improved cancer survival. Meanwhile the number of staff recommending the care of their own organisation in the ‘friends and family test’ is at a record high, and we are leading one of the largest expansions of mental health services anywhere in Europe.
More patients report being treated with compassion, and incidents of the four most common harms that happen to patients have fallen by nearly 20 per cent. No wonder that last year independent experts from the Commonwealth Fund rated our NHS as the best and safest health system in the world for the second time running.
The last Labour government focused relentlessly on waiting times, and to their credit made good progress. But waiting times, although they matter, are ultimately a process measure: what matters most is whether you get good care and recover. So our new NHS plan will focus relentlessly on outcomes: things like cancer survival, stroke recovery, tackling still-births, and driving down death rates – all areas where other European countries do better.
Sir Henry Willink knew all this. He pledged that the NHS would be “a really human and personal service” because as a Conservative he understood that institutional commitments to fairness and equality should never come at the expense of the individuals the NHS would serve and the quality of care they would enjoy.
Our continued electoral success depends on delivering outstanding public services, not allowing them to be exploited as an easy political dividing line. But as Conservatives we must demonstrate that every additional pound will be spent wisely so that when this plan is delivered we are offering the very best outcomes anywhere in Europe. And that is what we will now do.