Speech: Health and Social Care Secretary NHS providers conference speech

Department Of Health

November 17
15:45 2021

Its a real pleasure to be closing this years annual conference.

Were meeting at an important juncture in the history of the NHS and our nation as we strive to start a new chapter, restoring and renewing our health service while keeping this deadly virus at bay. The NHS is an organisation that has its roots in adversity. It was created after our shared experience of the strife and suffering of the Second World War with a noble mission to transform the nations health. Just over 7 decades later, during one of the greatest emergencies this nation has ever faced in peacetime, weve fought another adversary and the NHS has been there for us all, helping our nation to stand strong.

Im so grateful to every single person in this wonderful institution for the heroics youve performed at this tough time. And now, just as we reflect on the hardship and suffering that this virus has brought us, we must also take what weve learnt from this time of national emergency, and think with ambition and determination about the kind of health service that we want to see in the future.

Being able to work so closely with the NHS and the brilliant people who work there is a real privilege for me. I try and get on the ground as often as I can to listen and learn. My most valuable visit was just in the last few weeks when I had the chance to don scrubs for myself and spend a shift in a busy A&E and ICU.

I was blown away by the dedication and care shown by NHS colleagues and the wonderful team effort that sits behind health and care in this country. I feel this responsibility very deeply. And I will do everything in my power to make sure our health system is well equipped not just for this pandemic, but for the other threats to our nations health and happiness. So, I want to use this opportunity today to talk about my priorities for this role and the central part the NHS has to play in delivering them.

The first of these 3 priorities is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. Because, although weve made so much progress, this virus is still with us and it is still a threat to us all. Last winter, the NHS was placed under the most acute pressure of the pandemic so far. The closest weve come to seeing the NHS being overwhelmed. But the British people came together to stop that from happening and, in turn, you did your utmost to protect them, through the acute trusts expanding critical care, community trusts that we are putting in place, enhanced discharge schemes and mental health trusts setting up wellbeing hubs for NHS colleagues.

And now, a year later, were in a stronger position thanks to almost 110 million jabs that our vaccination programme has put in arms. And Id like to take a moment to thank you all for the part youve played in this life-saving programme especially the work that youve done to intensify our booster programme over the past few weeks with a million boosters given in the last 3 days. And its fantastic that next week well be expanding the programme to people that are aged 40 to 49, and although Im not quite 40 to 49 anymore, this morning I joined the over 13 million people whove had their top-up jab.

Every time I go to a vaccination centre, Im always moved by the hope and the optimism that our vaccination programme has given to people in this country. Because of your work, weve been able to bring back cherished experiences to so many people and we can now approach this winter with the best chance of living alongside the virus. But, as you know as well as anyone, this is not a time for complacency. Winter has always been a tough time of year for the NHS. In the past, weve seen flu seasons that have put the NHS under incredible strain, and we now know that flu and COVID together can be formidable foes. So, we must of course tread carefully.

Every day, I look at the COVID-19 figures closely and I discuss this with my expert team of clinicians, along with leaders from across our health service. And, although the vaccination programme is clearly having an impact, weve seen in the past how quickly things can change. So, as we approach this critical winter, were throwing everything at our mission to keep the NHS standing strong. And weve given an extra 5.4 billion of funding for the autumn and winter, to boost our COVID-19 response.

This includes an extra 1 billion towards the treatment backlog, 2.8 billion towards COVID costs like infection control costs and almost half a billion pounds to free up beds through an enhanced hospital discharge programme.

And not only will patients be able to benefit from this investment, but theyll benefit from the worlds most promising COVID-19 treatments too. Ronapreve, which has been specifically designed to treat COVID-19, is now being administered by the NHS. And earlier this month, we became the first country in the world to approve an antiviral for COVID-19 that can be taken at home, so we can do even more to protect the most vulnerable people in our country.

Because our fight against COVID-19 is not yet over.

It wont be a war where we can vanquish the enemy in one fell swoop, but instead its more of an ongoing counter-insurgency where we need to be ready to respond whenever were called upon. And we cant do that without you. Youve shown time and time again that you can rise to the most formidable challenges when the nation looks to you. And Im determined to give you what you need to do your jobs and to stay strong this winter and beyond.

But we must fight on many fronts. Not just fighting the pandemic, but what the pandemic has brought with it too. Because the almost 600,000 patients whove been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in the UK arent the only ones whove felt the impact. Youve seen on the frontline how COVID-19 has brought with it less visible costs. Like, for example, the impact on our mental health. The proportion of adults experiencing some form of depression has nearly doubled since before the pandemic. And, as well as the impact on mental health services, theres also a striking backlog of elective care that has built up too.

In September this year, this reached almost 6 million and, without taking action, it risked going as high as 13 million. You all went into health and care because you want to help people. And Im sure you find it as dispiriting as me to think about 13 million people having to endure lengthy waits to get the care they need. The first value of the NHS Constitution is how the NHS provides a comprehensive service, thats available to all.

And now we have the defensive shield of our vaccination programme, we must be ambitious about restoring services and not let anything stand in our way. So, were embarking on the biggest catch-up plan in the history of the NHS.

Weve given 2 billion through our Elective Recovery Fund this year and 8 billion for the next 3 years on 9 million more checks, scans and procedures. This means that the NHS in England can deliver significantly more elective activity by 2024 to 2025 than it could even before the pandemic.

And, just a few weeks ago, we announced another 5.9 billion of capital investment. A large part of that funding will go towards the creation of a network of community diagnostic centres, which can provide a one-stop-shop for checks, scans and tests in the heart of local communities, bringing services closer to those who need them most. I think its a brilliant example of some of the creative thinking that weve been using to get this backlog down and what we can achieve when different parts of the system work together. And Im also really grateful for the way that youve embraced this hugely important work.

So thats COVID, and our recovery from COVID. My final priority is reform. Because we face a choice: do we use this moment to put the NHS on the strongest possible footing for the future? Or simply return to what was there before the pandemic? Now, I know that different people hear different things when they hear the word reform.

So, let me set out where Im coming from, who I am and what I want to achieve.

Im a child of public services. As a boy, I went to Dr Gandhis clinic on Bristols Stapleton Road to translate for my mum. I studied in the local library because there wasnt enough space at home and I spent some of my uni days volunteering at a care home. My dad drove a bus, my brother became a police officer and I went into public life.

My family. My upbringing. Its all about public service. And the NHS is probably the best and greatest example of public service we have. So for me, this is not simply a department that needs to be managed its a lifeline for so many people in our country.

I believe in what the NHS stands for the idea that we all share a responsibility for

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