Matt Hancock is Secretary of State for Health, and is MP for West Suffolk.
With the new decade beginning, we stand at the cusp of exciting developments which can change our country for the better. It’s our job now to make them happen and make Britain soar in the 2020s.
The end of 2019 saw the public vote for a strong majority Conservative Government, and gave us a mandate to get on to not only deliver Brexit but the people’s priorities. We have a duty to deliver on our commitments and use this opportunity with vigour.
For all the noise and political paralysis of the past few years, under the surface in many ways Britain has been doing well. For all the sneering, on any objective measure this last was the best decade to be alive. Life expectancy has increased. Your chance of beating cancer has risen faster than almost anywhere in Europe. The number of people in work is at its highest point, and there are more women in work than ever before. Thanks to radical reforms a decade ago, England rose up the international education rankings.
But whilst laudable, these achievements do not signify job done. In the campaign, some commentators feigned confusion that we can be both proud of our record and determined to do more – and sometimes do things differently. But this approach underpins the Conservative approach – to learn from the past, and build a better future.
The election showed that there is a yearning for this kind of One Nation Government to move this country forward, and crucially to do so across the whole country: in infrastructure, in connectivity, in creating the high pay high reward jobs of the future. Patriotic and proud of our country yet open and outward looking to the world.
In my own area of health and social care the next decade holds great challenges, and incredible promise.
Ultimately, our task is to ensure the NHS gets the support it needs to support people to stay healthy for longer, to give people more control over their own health through a smarter, more preventative focused approach. We must invest more – and we will. But it’s not just about the money, but also improving the way the health service is run and harnessing exciting new technology.
Take genome sequencing, as one of the technologies with the greatest potential. When we screen new-born children, we can identify health conditions they may have or be at risk of developing in childhood and later life. We can help them prevent those conditions, or in the case of many rare diseases we can save a harrowing, costly odyssey to find what is wrong. Why shouldn’t this sort of screening be available to all children, just like the heel-prick test is today?
Similarly at the other end of life, I’m inspired by the memory of my own grandmother to deliver our manifesto commitment to a national effort to gather the finest scientists and doctors in the world to find a cure for dementia.
And at the same time, let’s make good on growing research which shows we can treat early signs of dementia, not with more drugs, but through social prescribing – making use of non-medical services to help people manage their physical and mental health.
Not only is this approach better for our health, but it will help ease the pressures on our increasingly burdened NHS staff and hospitals. Just through the use of social prescribing, patients with long-term conditions attended 47 per cent fewer hospital appointments and made 38 per cent fewer visits to A&E. It’s an approach rooted in helping people take more responsibility for their own health – not just relying on the NHS to fix things when they go wrong.
I also know from my conversations with patients and staff that they are desperate for the improvements in technology. Better tech means better health and social care: it helps the elderly to live independently for longer; GPs able to see more patients; smarter e-rostering to help the NHS avoid inflated agency fees. Let’s use the amazing new technology all around us to help doctors do their jobs and help patients have more control. Combine all this with the exciting march of new technology in the NHS and the prospect of a Government giving the NHS, life sciences, and new technology their full backing, and the opportunities for breakthroughs in the way we discover and treat illnesses, are huge.
And of course, none of this is possible without the amazing people who work in the NHS. With the investment this Government will make in our workforce – including 50,000 more nurses, and 6,000 more GPs – we must grasp the opportunities to the create a more integrated NHS with a culture that maximises the potential of every single member of its staff. This change in working culture is vital and you’ll be hearing much more of it over the coming months.
We must build workplaces that our wonderful NHS staff can feel proud of. That’s about how well led our hospitals are, and it’s about the buildings themselves. The Prime Minister has famously committed to build 40 new hospitals over the next decade. But it’s not just about the new-builds. Our hospitals will be upgraded too through the Health Infrastructure Plan, with wards that are designed to speed up recovery and have the right equipment and technology, ensuring patients receive the right treatment at the right time.
There is so much to do. We have the mandate and the majority. Let’s make 2020 the year of progress and work now to set up a decade we can all be proud of.