Matt Hancock is the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and is MP for West Suffolk.
Last year we celebrated 70 years since the foundation of the NHS, and put its finances on a secure long term footing.
It was 75 years ago this week that Conservatives in Government launched the White Paper on the NHS.
While his colleagues focussed on the vital work of war, Henry Willink published plans that shaped the peace. It was Willink, supported by Churchill, who declared the NHS should be “free at the point of delivery, according to need not ability to pay.” He argued this principle is essentially patriotic – and I agree. We come together as a nation to make sure each of us, friend and stranger alike, can get the best possible care in their hour of need.
Willink set out that the new service should not only be a “full service but a human and personal service”. His influence and impact on all of us lasts to this day.
And since it opened its doors four years later, the NHS has been under Conservative stewardship for the majority of its life. And as Conservatives we know it is our duty to nurture and support the NHS so it can deliver for the people of today and the generations to come.
Ultimately, peoples’ relationship with the NHS is not transactional: it is deeply emotional. The NHS is there for us at some of the most important moments of our lives – from the joy of the birth of children, and the pain of the death of a loved one. Nigel Lawson called the NHS “the closest thing Britain has to a national religion”, and that’s still true today.
Since its inception 75 years ago, the NHS has changed beyond measure. Life expectancy is decades longer, and more of that longer life lived in good health. World-leading innovations like radiological imaging, organ transplants, IVF, and genome therapy have made life saving treatments available to all.
The NHS has been at its best when it has adopted new innovations. And so it must do today.
So as we support the NHS with the largest ever increase of taxpayers’ funding, £34 billion over the next five years, and as we support the 1.3 million people who make it what it is, we must ensure the NHS keeps advancing, embracing new technology, to get the best possible quality of care in return for taxpayers’ hard earned cash.
Prevention is better than cure
As we reach Willink’s milestone, we have set out in our Long Term Plan how the NHS will be there for us all over the next decade. To cope with the pressures of an ageing population and rising expectations, we must make sure it focusses as much on helping people stay healthy as curing people when they are ill.
We must move to a new model of care that is focused on prevention; because we all know that prevention is better than cure.
Each year, we spend £97 billion of public money on treating disease and only £8 billion on preventing it across the UK. That imbalance is in urgent need of correction. We must get smarter about where we focus our efforts and spend our money, not least because preventative measures cost less than treatments further down the line.
Of the new money secured for our NHS, the highest rise in spending is in preventative areas: primary, community and mental health services.
And we’ve got to ensure that patients get the right care in the right setting and we get the maximum value from every taxpayer pound.
For too long, there’s been a drive for expensive reorganisations that take services further away from people – when we should be using technology to move services closer and closer to patients. The drive over generations endlessly to close local services, like community hospitals, needs to stop. Of course the most complex and cutting edge treatments need to happen in world-beating specialist hospitals. But most treatments can be done closer to home, where it’s better for patients and for the local community. This must deliver better value for each pound too, with less waste and bureaucracy and a total focus on the quality of care.
New technology can help deliver better services – much as it’s made so many other parts of our lives easier and more convenient. NHS staff are crying out for better technology too. We must deliver on this agenda.
But new technology is only partly about the kit. We need to change how we think about our relationship with the NHS, too.
For too long, the debate has been focussed on what the NHS can do for us.
I think we need to think more about our obligations to the NHS – to use services wisely – and the responsibility we all have towards our own health.
Of course this means taking care of our own health. It means more and better screening. And it means taking action to tackle preventable illnesses when we know we’re at risk but before they strike. I recently discovered I have a higher than average risk of prostate cancer, and I’ll be keeping an eye on that more now I know that’s in my genes.
But taking responsibility means more than that.
Technology allows us to take more responsibility for our healthcare, too. I want an NHS where we can all, easily, see our own records, and where we co-create, with doctors, plans to stay healthy, and to get back to health when we’re ill. When we can use genetic and clinical information to support living longer, healthier lives.
Instead of old-school blanket approaches to preventing ill health, we need more targeted interventions that can help people make informed choices and equip people to take greater responsibility and ownership over their health and wellbeing.
We are, though, only in the early stages of what is possible and I am determined that the NHS will be at the forefront of adoption of these new technologies.
In supporting Willink’s White Paper, Winston Churchill, the country’s greatest Prime Minister, said the NHS would “ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”
Seventy-five years on we should celebrate Willink, Churchill and the national treasure they created. At its inception, Conservatives were the Party of the NHS. As the Party of the NHS today we must recommit to champion our party’s proud role in securing the NHS for the future.