Mark Iliffe, partner
Jeremy Hunt may have been the longest serving Health Secretary in UK political history, but he won’t go down as the most popular, particularly with many of those working within the NHS. However, now he has finally been tempted away from his longstanding brief, perhaps his parting legacy might create the platform for his successor, Matt Hancock, to deliver transformational change. The two most important factors, of course, remain having Health and Social Care sat under one departmental roof and winning the battle with the Treasury to secure more funding.
It’s been interesting to read a number of articles in recent weeks commentating on the 70-year anniversary of the NHS and the fact that it’s really not as good as it could and should be. We are rightfully proud of an organisation that offers care free at the point of delivery and we celebrate the commitment and quality of thousands of those who deliver that care. However, outcomes are not where they should be; bluntly, far too many people are dying unnecessarily.
There have been some further calls for the NHS to be placed into the hands of a politically neutral organisation (perhaps a Royal Commission) and given responsibility for taking a long-term view to devise a strategy, manage expenditure and deliver an NHS that will be fit for purpose. However ideologically positive this could be, one cannot see it happening in practice.
It therefore falls to Mr Hancock to be brave. “Leaving the NHS alone” is definitively not the answer if it wants to survive and thrive.
His first speech as Health Minister, delivered at his local NHS Hospital – coincidentally, one of the very best in the country – was instructive and focused on three key areas: workforce, technology and prevention.
Mr Hancock has a background in technology, recognising that, used properly, it will save time and money, while improving patient safety. Perhaps, at last, the fax machines, pagers and outdated processes will be banished for ever.
In terms of prevention, the closer integration of the NHS and social care delivery systems will help – specifically to keep people healthy, treat their problems quickly, provide the tools to allow people to manage their own needs and deliver care in the right place in settings that suit their specific situation.
Mr Hancock paid tribute to NHS staff, recognising that morale has to be improved, the “tribal barriers between management and clinicians” needs to be abolished and “a shared leadership agenda for the health service” created. Alongside better leadership training, talent from outside should be engaged at all levels “to develop a strong and diverse pipeline of capable leaders willing to bring their talents to health and care”.
This final point is the most important. There are great people within the NHS with the skills, experience and personality needed to drive the change required, but those from other backgrounds should not be ignored; they could contribute so much in terms of leadership, innovation and employee engagement if they are given the environment in which to succeed.