New secretary, new promises and half a billion-pound spend

New health secretary Matt Hancock has set out his priorities for the NHS, pledging to spend nearly £500 million of Theresa May’s £20 billion healthcare funding bonus and gathering mixed reviews.

In his first speech since being appointed earlier this month, Hancock addressed staff at the West Suffolk Hospital sharing his vision for England’s national healthcare provider.

Workforce, technology and illness prevention are three areas where he feels he must make a swift and decisive progress to achieve long-term plans laid out for the NHS.

During the address, he made a clear promise that he is going to focus on the workforce and restoring its faith in the government actions, after his predecessor have left a bad taste with the junior doctors’ strike.

Hancock pledged: “I am determined that the commitment you show to your patients is matched by the commitment we show to you.”

“So, I have a clear message: I value you. I admire you. I will fight for you and I will champion you.”

He expressed his disappointment with results of the recent staff survey finding “12% of staff felt discriminated against” and described low morale among employees as “heartbreaking”.

The health secretary plans to initiate intensive training and support programs, to provide the “safest, highest quality care to patients”, he also pledged to listen to comments and requirements voiced by the NHS staff.

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

“In both health and social care, I want your voice to be at the heart of government,” he said. “To make this happen I’m going to launch a consultation exercise on workforce issues. And I’ll be setting up a panel of clinical and professional advisers from a cross-section of the NHS and social care workforce.”

Hancock also pledged big changes in technology, which when used right is “a catalyst for greater connectivity and empowerment – on both sides”.

In his speech, Hancock promised £412 million for technological “transformation” of the NHS, as he proposed extending Scan4Safety scheme, issuing barcodes for patients and ordering hospitals to stop using paper prescriptions.

A further £75 million will be invested in the NHS’s computer system upgrade alone to help saving money in future, increasing security and to avoid potential medication errors.

“This is an important moment. As a country we have decided to invest £20 billion more in funding for our NHS. And as a country we need to find a sustainable approach to fund fair social care for all. Now is a moment to define how these sums are spent for the next generation,” said Hancock.

Theresa May has pledged a few weeks ago to increase the NHS funding by around £20 billion a year in real terms by 2024, but there have been concerns as to whether it will be enough to fix the problems the service faces.

Therefore, public spending is being closely watched.

In the response to Hancock’s speech Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health and social care secretary, said: “The 4.3 million patients on waiting lists and the nearly 27,000 patients who waited over 62 days for cancer treatment last year will feel sorely let down that reducing waiting lists and stamping out rationing isn’t the first priority of the new health secretary.”

“Investment in technology is welcome but years of Tory austerity has seen hospitals build up a £5 billion repair backlog, resulting in clinicians nationwide using hundreds of pieces of equipment that are years out of date, as recently revealed by Labour.”

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