The NHS is struggling. We all know that – and it is why I found extra funding for the health and care systems in my Autumn Statement.
Locally the Royal Surrey and Frimley Park continue to do an excellent job and we are counting the months before the new Cancer Centre opens at the former (for which many thanks for your fantastic support).
But across the country the fact remains that despite more doctors, more nurses and more funding, the NHS has not returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity. What is the issue?
My experience as both health secretary and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee tells me much of it is a pandemic hangover: infection control measures that are, rightly, stricter than before combined with exhaustion among staff who did such a magnificent job.
Some of those issues will resolve themselves, but on the latter a long-term workforce plan will be essential to reassure those on the front line that the pressures they feel at the moment will not last forever.
I announced such a plan would be developed at the Autumn Statement and work is continuing on it apace.
Another issue much talked about is pay, given the current wave of strikes.
We are open to discussing all pay issues except awards that would themselves be inflationary. There is absolutely no point in funding an award that means inflation and interest rates stay higher for longer. To do that would simply mean insidious inflation continues to eat into people’s pay for many years to come, prolonging rather than solving a cost-of-living crisis.
But there are many other things the NHS could do to increase activity levels.
One of them is to scrap the hundreds of targets that mean managers on the front line are micro-managed in a way that does not happen in any other health system. Patricia Hewitt is now conducting a review into the way targets work and I hope she will show the way to a dramatic reduction in such targets.
Another is to reverse a mistake from two decades ago when we scrapped the system of everyone having their own GP. The evidence is clear: seeing the same doctor makes you less likely to go to hospital and less likely to die.
Finally we need reforms to social care to help get people out of hospital more quickly, something I addressed with an extra £4.7 billion of funding in November.
In short, we need a mixture of short-term support and long-term reforms: no quick fix but with determination we really can transform the NHS so we are as proud of it nationally as we continue to be locally.