Shropshire Star

Wes Streeting acknowledges public concerns about NHS survival are ‘legitimate’

The new Health Secretary was speaking at the Future of Britain Conference 2024.

Published
Health Secretary Wes Streeting leaving Downing Street

Cutting waiting lists for patients in England is the “number one priority”, the new Health and Social Care Secretary has said as he acknowledged the public’s “legitimate” concerns about the future of the NHS.

Wes Streeting said there is “palpable anxiety” among the British public about whether the NHS will survive but said he is “optimistic” about the future.

He said the NHS needs “tough love” and promised to drive forward reform that will help the health and care system to “survive in the 21st century”.

He said the new Government would act “not just to address the immediate burning-deck issues, but also the long-term strategic challenges”.

A new Government gives a “massive opportunity” for more long-term thinking, he added.

Speaking at the Future of Britain Conference 2024 at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, he said: “First and foremost, I am the patient’s shop steward.

“We have got 7.6 million people on NHS waiting lists, they struggle to access a GP; more than a million people are on mental health waiting lists, they dial 999, uncertain if an ambulance is going to arrive, and even if they make it to the emergency department, they can’t guarantee that they will be seen on time either.

“So cutting waiting times is my immediate focus and the number one priority I have.

“But in pursuing that objective, we’ll be contributing to economic growth as well, and it’s important to keep both of those things in mind.

“We will be embarking on a long-term plan for both health and social care. But we’ve got to make sure that we keep our eyes on the long-term horizon.”

He highlighted “existential” challenges facing the service, including a growing and ageing population, a rise in preventable chronic diseases, and rising cost pressures, adding: “If we don’t make the right reform decisions now in the medium term, let alone the long term, future generations will curse us because we didn’t take the difficult, long-term decisions at the right time, and we saddle future generations with a national health service that is unsustainable.

“I am optimistic about the future of the NHS, and I think that the same equitable principles upon which it was founded in 1948 can and must survive and thrive in the 21st century.

“But that is not inevitable – the anxiety that the public feel, the palpable anxiety I found on the doorstep during the election (campaign) about whether or not the NHS will survive, is a legitimate concern, and it is why we have to act, not just to address the immediate burning-deck issues, but also the long-term strategic challenges, threats and also opportunities that face the NHS.”

He added: “Our love for the NHS is not in doubt, but sometimes, if you love someone, you have to force them to change and there is time for tough love… this isn’t about changing structures, renaming integrative care boards, reconstituting trusts or changing the name of the chief executive of NHS England – what a waste of time those things would be.

“This is about the three big shifts that are essential for our health and social care system to survive in the 21st century.”

These are: shifting care away from hospitals into the community; prevention of ill health; and a “shift from an analogue system” which will drive the “life sciences and med-tech revolution here and internationally”, he added.

He said he has told the department it is “no longer simply a public service department” but an “economic growth department”, because health and the economy are “inextricably linked” and improving the health of the nation can help to “drive the economic growth of the country”.

“That is a major shift in mindset,” he said. “It’s a rethinking of the role of the department.

“It also means ending the begging bowl culture, where the only interaction the Treasury has with the Department of Health and Social Care is we need more money for X, Y and Z.

“The starting point has got to be, ‘We will help you achieve your mission for growth and improve the prosperity and lives of everyone in this country by making sure that we are with you lockstep in driving growth’.”

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.