MP Matt Hancock has unveiled what he sees as “early priorities” in his new role as health and social care secretary: workforce, technology, and prevention.
These are areas “where we must make swift and decisive progress” for the long-term plan for the NHS to be a success, he said, during a speech at West Suffolk Hospital.
Hancock said he wants to ensure training is organised and funded “so that everyone can reach their full potential,” including more training for GP-based pharmacists to help reduce GPs’ “substantial workloads”, and greater support for nurses to become advanced nurse practitioners, “providing more comprehensive care for patients while freeing up doctors to carry out more of the tasks they trained to do”.
Expanding apprenticeships was also mentioned, as well as greater support for people working in social care.
With regard to technology, Hancock hailed the field as “a catalyst for greater connectivity and empowerment”, noting: “Not only can the right use of technology save time and money, it can improve patient safety.”
However, he also stressed that new technology must reduce waste and drive down costs, and that the current variance in take up must be addressed.
“I want to see technology that releases funding to save lives elsewhere – on cancer survival rates for example – where we still lag behind the best in the world,” he said.
As such, Hancock announced that the government is streaming more than £400 million into new technology in hospitals that will “make patients safer, make every pound go further and help more people access health services at home,” which will be “another major step along the road to full provider digitisation.”
A further £75 million is being made available to Trusts to help them put in place state-of-the-art electronic systems “which save money, give clinicians more time to spend on patients and reduce potentially deadly medication errors by up to 50 percent when compared to the old paper systems,” he added.
On prevention, Hancock stressed: “With an ageing society and 10 million more people projected to be living with a long-term condition by 2030, it is more imperative than ever that we look to make a radical shift in our approach – focusing on preventative, joined-up care that’s centred around individuals.”
Keeping people healthy and treating their problems quickly, empowering people with tools to manage their own physical and mental health needs closer to home, and delivering care in the right place will be key to boosting population health, he said.
“The priorities outlined by the new Secretary of State are very encouraging and will strike a positive chord with our members who have long argued that workforce, technology and transformation to develop services in the community are central,” said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
“Next we need to see the detail. It is imperative clinical staff and the public are involved in shaping any long-term plan – but crucially this must be a health and care plan, not an NHS plan.
“In March the Prime Minister promised to correct the mistakes of previous Governments by putting an end to ‘siloed’ working and integrating health and social care so that demands on the NHS are better managed. This work must begin now, not later, otherwise we risk slipping back into the age-old habit of fighting NHS fires rather than planning for the long-term.”
Also responding, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said it is “encouraging that the new Secretary of State seems to have recognised the need to invest in primary care and the prevention of disease, and also that he has recognised the importance of increasing the availability of social prescribing opportunities to complement the evidence-based treatments we offer for physical and psychological distress in our patients.”
"But while there is reference to GP workload, we would have liked more explicit emphasis on Mr Hancock's plans for increasing the number of 'real' GPs providing frontline care to patients.”