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'Will these words be turned into actions?'

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It is still very early days for the new health and social care secretary to fully reveal his approach and ideas for the NHS, but so far Matt Hancock seems to be saying at least some of the right things.

This week he revealed a human side by highlighting his honour at becoming health secretary, which he described in colourful terms as being the “guardian of health and care within government”.

In a speech at North Bristol NHS Trust, he also spoke about how the NHS was “deeply, deeply personal” for him, referring to how NHS staff had saved the life of his sister last year.

In addition, he used the speech on Monday to combine his love of technology – one of the few things we do know about him – with an attempt to engage with the health service’s workforce.

Announcing the TalkHealthandCare initiative in his speech to hospital staff in Bristol, he said: “I want to start an open-ended, two-way, frank conversation.”

Inevitably, the announcement was couched in a certain amount of this kind of rhetoric, but basically it means the government has set up a new website designed to collect the views of NHS staff.

Mr Hancock described the new online engagement platform as being about giving staff a “voice in the day-to-day creation of policy in government”.

He also told them it was about “giving you somewhere to go with your ideas and questions, somewhere for you to challenge us and, equally, for us to ask something of you”.

“The key, of course, will be whether the words are turned into actions”

It sounds good, right? I can imagine a bit of an initial stampede from a workforce largely starved of being listened to in the way that is suddenly being promised.

The key, of course, will be whether these words are turned into actions. Mr Hancock has promised to feedback to staff, setting out what has been learnt and what the government is going to do about it.

I suspect the true test will come on the really difficult questions such as nurse-to-patient ratios and in the event of situations like a really bad winter crisis.

Only then will we know if the move represents a genuine attempt to listen and learn from the health service’s greatest asset – that is, its staff – or whether it is really just a digital white elephant for trumpeting policy and fluffy initiatives while ignoring the real challenges from the frontline.

For now, we do not know, but I sincerely hope that it turns out to be the former and that the exercise really does reflect the “real-time concerns and ambitions of the workforce”, as Mr Hancock has suggested.

The alternative would be a massive let down after the early promise of his tenure.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Obviously, with a potential flood of many thousands of questions, comments and suggestions, there will be a range of quality, from the downright stupid to genius. Many communications will probably be very similar in theme. It will take time to filter these and collate ideas/questions. I thus don't expect any rapid improvement in the state of affairs we must daily contend with. We'll have to wait and see. How long is another matter.

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