Earlier this week, Political Intelligence were invited to an exclusive event which saw Health Secretary Matt Hancock interviewed by health policy analysts and writer, Roy Lilley in front of a crowded room at the Royal Society of Medicine.
Lilley quizzed the Health Secretary on his brief, to which Hancock was clear that he had not taken on the role with a fixed idea of what the NHS should look like. He stated he was keen to learn and work with those in the system but made a point of setting out his three core priorities early on: workforce, prevention and technologies. He made clear that prevention in particular he made clear, was central to the 10 Year Long Term Plan. Hancock highlighted that the Plan is a wider ‘vision’ that does not go into the nuts and bolts of problems and solutions. He assured attendees that detailed implementation plans will follow soon.
Lilley grilled the Health Secretary on his plans around workforce, stressing that the reliance on agency workers caused by the number of vacancies in the service was leading to frustration among many staff while also adding financial pressures. Hancock suggested that the Apprenticeship Levy be simplified and that the NHS needs to become more dynamic in its delivery of clinical training places.
Lilley pointed out that the £20bn funding settlement announced last year is not quite the ‘bonanza’ the Government described; so many trusts are currently in debt he argued, that the money provided will simply be used to cover this debt, rather than enable new investments. Hancock countered that a 5 year settlement should help – he said he was struck by the very short pay-back period required to justify funding in the NHS. If products or services do not show returns in a year, they are simply not funded – he argued that such a system needs to end and the audience, which contained a number of health professionals, appeared to agree.
The Secretary of State was also critical of the number of pilots carried out by the NHS, stating that there should instead be a greater focus on rolling out innovations that are already proven to work across the system. On the subject of innovation, Hancock was typically passionate about the role of technology and keen to highlight the opportunity for the UK to be a world leader in artificial intelligence and data use. He was also quick to defend his recently published Tech Vision from criticism, stating that it was clear strategy as well as an overarching vision.
On the subject of rumours around ‘NHS X’, a new digital unit that the Health Service Journal described as a ‘power grab’, Hancock told Lilley that governance of technology was split across so many teams and bodies, including NHS England, NHS Digital and NHS Improvement – he suggested that NHS X could provide a more cohesive approach to technology and more seamless delivery of new innovation.
Hancock appeared confident in his brief, and while his passion for technology shone through, he was careful to consider other acute issues that the health service is briefing, including workforce pressures and the importance of social care. With the Social Care Green Paper and the NHS Workforce Implementation Plan due later this year, there will be plenty of opportunities for Hancock to put his ambitious plans into action.