Thursday, 3 March 2011

NHS

Last week I visited the Camborne Redruth Hospital at Barncoose to visit staff and patients and discuss some of the changes that are currently being put forward to the way the NHS operates. There was a good atmosphere on the wards and some recent refurbishment means there was more space for each bed. They even had a small kitchen which was available for use by the patients on the stroke ward so that they could start to get used to independent living again.

The core value of our NHS is that it is free at the point of need and that will never change. The NHS is the one area of government spending that will see real term increases in its budget. I think that’s right. As medical science advances and new drugs come on the market, there will always be growing pressure on resources. However, while spending on the NHS will continue to grow, so too will the demands on it. So we need to make sure that money goes further and that we spend more on the front line and less on the back office.

The NHS is a very large organisation and trying to micro-manage it from Whitehall has never been successful. The culture of targets and tick box routines which became the predominant feature under the last government undermined morale among medical professionals who often found that they were prevented from doing what they knew was best because some central diktat got in the way. I don’t doubt that the last government had good intentions by setting targets but they had too many unintended consequences, with stories of people being held outside A&E departments so that, on paper, they could hit their targets for the time taken to get treated. Targets also took power away from doctors and nurses and led to a huge rise in the number of managers. In recent years, the number of NHS managers grew five times faster than the number of nurses. We all know that can’t be right.

The changes that the government is proposing will cut the number of managers and release a further £20 billion to the front line of the NHS. They will also put doctors and medical professionals back in charge so that they can commission the services they know their patients need. Finally, it will make it easier for third party health providers to lend a helping hand to the NHS and provide some extra capacity to speed up operations and clear waiting lists faster.

Our NHS is made by the people who work in it and they are motivated first and foremost by a desire to do their best for the patients in their care. It is this human value which we should harness and that is why I think it is right to give those health professionals more control.