Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and former MP for Twickenham.
Boris Johnson’s success is already remarkable: while the message Get Brexit Done was powerful, the top line message on the NHS was for many people equally remarkable.
Londoners who remember the Johnson mayoral years know that this Government will deliver, and that means for the first time this century there is a real opportunity to reassure an electorate who have said they lost trust in politics.
Ironically, if the Government achieves this, all political parties will benefit from the restoration of trust between Parliament and the electorate.
Already there are many predictions about how Johnson will be described in history. There is an extraordinary opportunity, not seen for 71 years whereby, he could do for NHS and social care workers what Margaret Thatcher did for people living in council homes. In 2024 the Conservative Party will have looked after the NHS for 49 of its 76 years, and on the 75th birthday it can be possible for people working in the NHS to say they have never had it so good.
For that to happen, to seal the Conservative deal for people working in the NHS and care sector, Johnson’s policies need to address employee satisfaction, employee retention (including career progression), and employee health. Building 40 new hospitals is very worthwhile, but the invisible benefit of making a workforce that is proud, healthy, and wants to come to work every day will be a bigger monument to the Johnson administration.
Every new hospital needs to have employee and expert input in the design so that the people working there have the gyms and rest areas that are commonplace in organisation and institutions like Google and the Turing Institute. Putting employees at the centre of all NHS and care sector policies could give the Prime Minister his equivalent to the original Right to Buy – i.e. a policy with an effect that lasts for generations.
I, for one, am looking forward to Baroness Harding’s report on the NHS workforce. Baroness Cavendish made excellent proposals for people working in care. Now the Health Secretary – and if it is Matt Hancock we know the NHS and social care are in good hands – can speed on with policies for staff so that the NHS is the employer of choice for all job seekers.
The Government is committed to bursaries: already under Jeremy Hunt we have more medical schools in Sunderland and Lancashire, and that investment can be built on to continue to strengthen regions beyond the existing NHS centres of excellence.
Other policies for people choosing to work in the NHS could include: an ‘NHS passport’ for people coming from outside the UK to work in Health Service and social care; starting a real top class management training centre for the NHS; recruiting actively for the 300 careers in the NHS; and budgeting for sabbaticals for employees every seven years if they return to the NHS or care sector so that the NHS becomes the employer of choice for people in fields of management, cleaning, catering, technology, robotics, IT and many, many more allied health roles.
Yes, the NHS and the care sector is all about patients and people using the service- but to be the best for patients and users the employees need to be the healthiest and happiest of workforces.
The Health Foundation has said only ten per cent of our health is down to the NHS so lifestyle, mental well-being, diet, and other factors should be continued to be audited by the government. Preventative medicine can improve and if there is an NHS point of contact on the high street – a pharmacy or health practice – there can be screening hubs for all. An ambitious Government could also introduce two days of annual leave for everyone to ensure people make time to attend screening appointments, whether it’s at the GP hub or the high street NHS ‘shop’. Mental well being that starts in schools, universally available and on high street drop-in centres would also be a revolution worthy of a grand Johnson legacy.
The Prime Minister is already stepping into the high heels of Thatcher, and by 2024 there is a real chance that trust in politics will be restored – especially if the NHS and care sector has been prioritised and the Government puts the people working in them at the forefront of all health policies.