The NHS: why we need to reform it

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The NHS is one of the things that makes this country great with its fundamental principles; healthcare for all, free at the point of use and unrelated to the ability to pay.

And that’s the way it should stay. My commitment to the NHS is personal and deep-seated. Like you I rely on the NHS and trust its doctors and nurses. But let’s not look at the NHS through rose-tinted glasses.

We all know that Scarborough Hospital has had its problems and that people have been worried about having to travel further to obtain treatment.

Although the NHS has been brilliant at so many things, we could still do better. If the NHS was performing at world class levels we could save an extra 5,000 lives from cancer every year.

We also need to do more to prevent disease in the first place.

It’s no use claiming to stand up for the values that underpin the NHS unless they can be made a reality.

He may have been a Labour Minister; but Lord Darzi, himself an eminent surgeon, got it right when he said, “to believe in the NHS is to believe in its reform.” I agree.

The NHS needs reform because it faces new challenges with people living longer and more complex new treatments becoming available.

The cost of medicines has been rising by £600 million per year. Continuing as we are will put at risk the chances of our children inheriting an NHS which has in so many ways stood us in good stead.

Despite the abysmal economic situation we inherited from the last Government, we are investing an extra £12.5 billion in the NHS over the next four years – meaning that the NHS receives one in every seven pounds of public money. But, simply putting in more money without reform won’t meet the healthcare needs of this and subsequent generations.

So we are undertaking these reforms to make the NHS better and more sustainable so that we can ensure that it survives. And, we are also doing it so that, as a result, patients will have the best possible treatment and care for the long-term benefit of their health.

So what are we doing? There are three points ...

l First, we are making sure that patients get the best possible treatment.

We are doing this by putting doctors and nurses, the people who best understand their patients, in charge of the NHS and by allowing patients to make informed choices about when and how they are treated. Local GPs are keen to roll up their sleeves and get on with the challenging task we have given them. This is the power we promised them in our election manifesto and we are delivering on that promise.

l Secondly, we are getting more money to the front line. One way we are doing that is by cutting bureaucracy. The reforms take out over 160 PCTs and Strategic Health Authorities and half of the statutory health quangos.

Already we have over 15,000 fewer administrators and managers in the NHS than when we were elected.

On the other side of the scales we have over 4,000 more doctors and the highest ever number of midwives.

We’re taking power away from bureaucrats and putting it in the hands of the people best placed to use it – the doctors themselves.

Another way of doing this is by cutting waste. We will save some £5 billion being wasted in current administration budgets in this parliament.

The NHS hasn’t just emerged from a golden age. Under the previous Government the private sector was paid £250 million for operations that never happened. Between 2008-2009 the number of NHS managers increased six times as fast as the number of nurses. £6.4 billion was wasted on the NHS supercomputer.

And in a parody of a bad joke, under a Labour PFI contract it cost £333 to change a light switch.

l Thirdly, we are making sure that there’s a better fit between health and social care bringing together health, hospitals, housing and social services care. We are doing this not by imposing a top-down diktat but by giving power to local boards focused on local health and well-being.

Let’s not be frightened of using competition to help achieve all this. It’s not a race to the bottom over price. It’s a race to the top on quality. It’s a means of giving greater choice to patients to get the high quality care they require.

Let’s not pretend either that the private sector and the NHS are not two sides of the same coin. Private companies and the NHS have worked hand-in-hand since 1948. All the drugs we use are developed and produced by private companies. Every GP practice is already, in effect, a small private business contracting its services to the NHS. This Bill is not a privatisation of the Health Service; in fact to the contrary, the Health Bill for the first time ever outlaws favouring the private sector over existing state health providers.

We also recognise the contribution of the voluntary and charitable sector including hospices. The Government, through these reforms, is committed to more money for the NHS, more freedoms for the NHS and a better future for the NHS.

These commitments have my full support.

It saddens me that so much politically motivated misinformation has been spread, worrying people who work for or rely on the NHS. By supporting these reforms I am standing up for our NHS not just for you and me but for our children and the future.