Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to foster a new health culture in England focussed less on “popping pills and Prozac” and more on “prevention and perspiration”.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham today, Mr Hancock said helping people before their condition deteriorated through interventions such as social prescribing rather relying on drugs and medical procedures when they hit crisis was “common sense”.
“We need to look after people as people, not just as patients”
Mr Hancock said he wanted to empower people to have more control over their own health.
He was expected to tell the conference: “Whether it’s the rising risk of obesity, the scourge of gambling addiction, or the growing challenge of mental illness, these problems, and the increasing demands they put on our health service, can only truly be solved by prevention as much as cure.
“We can’t go on treating them just as medical problems,” he said. “We need to look after people as people, not just as patients and foster a culture less popping pills and Prozac and more prevention and perspiration.
“That includes acting on new evidence and interventions to support people with obesity and other conditions, whether it be through prescribing exercise, the arts, or nutritional advice, rather than yet more drugs and medical interventions,” he said. “Or in the language I prefer to use – it’s common sense.”
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Mr Hancock pledged to bring services closer to people’s home and to follow through on a long-running ambition of the government to integrate health and social care services.
He said the era of “moving all activity into fewer larger hospitals and blindly, invariably, closing community hospitals” was over.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, Mr Hancock announced during the conference a £240m emergency cash injection for social care services this winter to help prevent delayed discharges from hospital.
He said: “We’ll use this money to get people who don’t need to be in hospital but do need care back home, back into their communities, so we can free up those vital hospital beds and help people who really need it, get the hospital care they deserve.”
Mr Hancock said the system would be reformed in the upcoming NHS 10-year plan and the social care green paper, both due to be published later this year.
“We’re going to sort out the technology in the NHS, because our NHS deserves better”
The former digital secretary has made clear since his appointment as health leader his commitment to improving technology in the NHS.
During the Tory conference today, Mr Hancock said the potential benefits of improving technology were “huge” and could help ease pressure on busy staff.
Mr Hancock said: “In some hospitals a nurse still goes round with a clip board to find out where beds are in use and where they’re empty.
“It doesn’t have to be that way. In Derriford Hospital in Plymouth where I was on a nightshift with Johnny Mercer last week. They’ve developed an in-house programme so everyone knows where the empty beds are all the time,” h said.
“Patients get better treatment and it’s so much easier for staff,” he said. “So we’re going to sort out the technology in the NHS, because our NHS deserves better.”
“Up and down the country we hear examples of trusts struggling to recruit enough nurses”
Mr Hancock also set out a new vision for more innovative treatments. He announced an extension of former prime minister David Cameron’s 100,000 genome project to allow one million genomes to be sequenced – with a long-term vision to make it available to all.
But Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, criticised Mr Hancock’s speech for failing to set out how staff vacancies across the NHS would be addressed.
She said: “The right number of staff with the right skills are the key to effective patient care and without enough nurses, so much of what was promised today looks simply undeliverable. Retaining local hospitals will do little to help communities if there is no one left to staff them.
”Up and down the country we hear examples of trusts struggling to recruit enough nurses to provide safe patient care,” she said. “Technology may help increase efficiency, but it in no way compensates for having enough nurses on shift to keep patients safe.
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She added: ”And preventative services, vital to keep people healthy for longer, require nurses with the right skills to make them work. Yet we see patients turned away from understaffed sexual health clinics as sexually transmitted infection rates soar.”
Dame Donna called for a comprehensive workforce plan and legislation to hold decision makers to account on safe staffing levels.