There is little spare funding—but as Brexit looms there are still announcements the health secretary could usefully makeby Jennifer Dixon / September 29, 2017 / Leave a comment
For a cabinet minister, party conferences are a major chance to shine. The preferred role is as a striker—a zealous reformer with an eye-catching administration-defining programme. Next comes the midfielder—the safe pair of hands making steady progress. Finally, the embattled goalkeeper—the able last defence against attack in difficult policy terrain. At next week’s Conservative Party conference, what role will Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt play?
The context is difficult. There isn’t money to do much new: in a decade of the most austere funding growth since the NHS began, next year the pinch is hardest. The legislative schedule will be full of Brexit-related activity. Following the unpopular Health & Social Care Act 2012, there is no stomach for more upheaval in the NHS in England, and given the parliamentary maths not much scope for it either. After what many saw as a damaging own goal for Hunt in the match with the junior doctors over seven day working two years ago, he will be wary of any replay with new opponents. Finally, the full strategy set out by the NHS itself in the Five Year Forward View means the room for new initiatives is limited.
And yet his in-tray is full of big issues, any one of which could fully detain him for the next year. Some clarity on these, or even an acknowledgement they are being worked on, will be important to hear in his upcoming conference speech.
Biggest of all relates to the NHS workforce. First, how to address shortages, in particular the number of nurses and GPs which fell over the last year. Gaps in rotas in A&E and the wards get headlines, but general practice and community services are being hit even harder. This is ironic when the thrust of the Five Year Forward View is to boost this type of care, in part to reduce avoidable dependency on hospitals. Second, how the government is seeking to at least retain the 5.5 per cent of the NHS workforce who are from the EU, and make sure the dots are joined with immigration policy to allow in skilled health workers from other countries. Third, the government’s approach to lifting the pay cap for NHS workers will also be important to clarify, given the…