Responding to the Health Secretary’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation said:

'We welcome the warm words today from the Health Secretary in support of the NHS and social care system. Having committed to invest in the NHS to address the huge elective care backlog, the government is rightly focused on ensuring the funding is used well. Sajid Javid has today emphasised that reform of the NHS is needed to speed up innovation and set out plans for a review of NHS leadership and management to be led by General Sir Gordon Messenger. 

'At the forefront of supporting the nation in the pandemic, NHS staff went above and beyond. Services rapidly innovated with a mass move to digital and virtual care and acute hospitals were reconfigured to care for half a million patients with COVID-19. All this with chronic staff shortages and underinvestment in capital over at least a decade. There is always room for improvement but, given NHS performance over the last 18 months, the case for fundamental reform has not been made.

'The starting point for any review should be to acknowledge the high commitment and skill of NHS staff, and the significantly lower resources available to them relative to health systems in neighbouring Western European nations. It should also acknowledge that the NHS performs well by international standards, having been assessed as one of the top global performers for administrative efficiency. And NHS productivity had increased at a faster rate than productivity across the wider economy in the decade before the pandemic. 

'There is a lot of potential for improving care by learning from other industries and spreading good management practice, new technology and effective innovations across the service. We agree with the Secretary of State that a review focusing on this could be extremely helpful in supporting staff to accelerate the changes they and the public want to see. But it would be overly optimistic to think this will lead to major improvements in efficiency in the short term. Innovations need to be tested to ensure they’re effective at scale, and well implemented. With NHS staff under sustained pressure, government and NHS leaders will need to support and train local leaders and clinical staff to make changes at the same time as managing the backlog. Central to this will be plugging staff shortages and investing in workforce education and training and capital at the forthcoming Spending Review.

'The Health Secretary has also again emphasised the importance of addressing health inequalities as part of the levelling up agenda. This is welcome but needs to be reflected in concrete action and investment targeted at improving health, especially for the poorest and sickest. Our new analysis, published today, shows that the public health grant – which funds smoking cessation, sexual health and alcohol and drugs services - has been cut by 24% in real terms per capita since 2015/16 with cuts falling more heavily on those living in the most deprived areas of England. This is despite the fact that smoking is the biggest single risk factor for ill health and premature death in the UK, particularly in low-income groups. As well as restoring the real terms cut to the grant, a coherent cross-government strategy is needed to boost the population’s health and make the UK a healthier and fairer society.’ 

Media contact

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
020 7257 2093

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