No sooner had the NHS blown out its 70th birthday candles than a change in its leadership was announced. Though many may not share the same ‘massive wrenching’ feelings dearly-departed Jeremy describes at this succession, Matt Hancock’s first term is met with bated breath. Out with the old, in with the new, it seems – well, relatively, if you overlook that apparently the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary job is now just one hop, skip and jump away from Health Secretary.
Well, we at Messly for one welcome our brave new leader – but we certainly don’t envy him. With record low satisfaction rates, epidemic understaffing and a funding gap widening by the day, this is one inheritance even a Tory would rather have seen taxed.
From our experience working with over 10,000 Junior Doctors, we’ve compiled some suggestions for what we see as Mr Hancock’s most pressing priorities. No first day in the office is easy but we suggest he may wish to roll his sleeves up now.
The NHS is critically understaffed. With as many as 7 out of 10 nursing vacancies remaining unfilled in parts of the UK and an estimated 50% of junior doctors dropping out of training within two years of starting, short-staffing in the NHS has reached crisis level. It is essential the incumbent health secretary sticks to pledges as recently as last week to bolster recruitment. As his predecessor tweeted just a few days ago ‘we should stop and take note of the reason the NHS is still, despite all its challenges, our most popular national institution – which in two words is ITS PEOPLE’.
In addition to nursing, positions in mental health and community-based care must be better promoted. The importance of this cannot be understated- nothing will affect patient safety more than insufficient staff.
At this moment in time only 4% of NHS budget is spent on preventative campaigns. Given the preventable nature of many chronic illnesses, this seems like a false economy. This century has witnessed an epidemiological shift away from communicable disease to overburdening by its non-communicable counterpart. Conditions such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory conditions contribute to as many as 9 in 10 deaths within the UK, according to the WHO. The NHS simply hasn’t got the capacity to respond to this unrelenting rise in cases. Investing in prevention today will reduce burden tomorrow – though the pay off may not be immediate, we at Messly urge the new secretary of health to make a pioneering effort in preventative care.
Care in the community
As A&E clots with demand, the need to better distribute care becomes more acute. Community services have struggled to survive after being disproportionately affected by government spending cuts during the financial crisis of 2008. Whilst a community doesn’t have the resources to care for itself, centralised services will continue to be overburdened. Investing in community-level interventions is an investment in preventative care via a ‘social multiplier’ mechanism: promoting healthier behaviour in one part of a community invariably benefits and incentivises the remainder. Whilst recent promises of a £20 billion investment into NHS England is of course to be celebrated (and hopefully not become a casualty of this change in leadership), social care must not be neglected. Again, though the payout of this may not be as immediately observable, it is likelier to be more robust and systemic than any ‘quick fix’ this sum can secure.
Investment in innovation, but carefully
Here’s when things get a little tricky. Innovation is a bit of a ‘catch all’ term – in the past politicians have hidden behind related terms in a bid to flex their technological muscle and reassure voters that change is indeed happening. However, we recommend our new Health secretary not depend on innovation blindly, but instead selectively. The NHS is an archaic institution, one built up on itself generation after generation. Only innovations that are complementary to existing infrastructure should be backed. Certainly, innovation should be disruptive – but that doesn’t mean it should be allowed to be destructive. Given the sensitivity of the NHS and all those it supports, investment into burgeoning technology such as distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence and many other such innovations must be done so cautiously. We urge our Mr Hancock not be drowned out in the buzz of these buzzwords and instead invest as much into research into the efficacy of these concepts as the products that are borne out of them.
Increasing Staff Pay
Magic money tree or no magic money tree, your staff deserve more. Your staff deserve to believe that effort in will equate to increased opportunities and financial remuneration. They deserve to believe in career progression and they deserve to feel like the assets that they are. Equal pay for equal work should extend to exceptional pay for exceptional work. By continuing to cap your staff’s pay you demotivate existing staff and deter future generations of NHS workers from ever thinking of applying. Even the smallest boost in pay can generate huge increases in productivity and worker satisfaction. Only in healthcare can a pay rise save lives.
The road ahead will not be easy but we at Messly are committed to supporting our new Health Secretary, his department and the NHS staff he represents in any way that we can.
We wish Matt Hancock all the very best of luck as he takes his new position.
If you believe that life as a Junior Doctor doesn't need to be so full of frustration and admin and that as a profession we can achieve more when we come together then join more than 10,000 other Junior Doctors on Messly.