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Jeremy Hunt pledges NHS infused with 'patient power'

Published 16/07/2015

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has challenged the BMA over seven-day contracts
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has challenged the BMA over seven-day contracts

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised an NHS motivated by "patient power" with "more transparency in return for fewer targets".

In a speech which he described as the most important that he has given as health secretary, he set out his "vision" for the future of the NHS, which he said was not just for the next five years, but the next 25.

Mr Hunt, who is involved in a row with doctors' union, the British Medical Association (BMA), over his plans to introduce seven-day working as standard, accused them of being a "roadblock to reform".

He said the NHS needs a "profound transformation in its culture" and he wants to see it move away from a target-driven culture to a more patient-driven and "more human system".

He said former chancellor Nigel Lawson "famously described the NHS as a national religion".

"The problem with religions is that when you question the prevailing orthodoxy, you can end up facing the Spanish Inquisition," he added.

"NHS orthodoxy was that criticism should not be made public because it would 'damage morale.' We now see that was wrong. Intelligent transparency is becoming a 'reformation moment' for the NHS as the public appreciate that a system with the confidence to be honest about failings is a system that does something to put them right."

Among the new measures is an Independent Patient Investigation Branch modelled on the Air Accident Investigation Branch used by the airline industry, which he said will see more of a "no blame learning culture" introduced.

He said that by next March, England will become the first country in the world to publish avoidable deaths by hospital trusts as well as ratings on the overall quality of care provided to different patient groups in every local area.

A move towards "patient power" will also see NHS England come up with plans to ensure there is "meaningful choice and control" over services offered in maternity, end of life care and for those with complex long-term conditions.

Mr Hunt said technology is set to revolutionise healthcare over the next 25 years and he is enlisting the help of internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox to increase take-up of digital innovation in health.

"We will be decoding individual genomes, allowing us to target personalised medicines, improve diagnosis and therapy, and reduce waste," he added.

"New medical devices will mean an ambulance arrives to pick us up not after a heart attack but before it - as they receive a signal sent from a mobile phone."

He said there are around 40,000 health apps on iTunes meaning that patients are able to take more control of their health and within the next five years, patients' electronic health records will be available in every healthcare setting.

"Data sharing between doctor and patient means power sharing too," he added.

"Get this right and it is no exaggeration to say that the impact will be as profound for humanity in the next decade as the internet has been in the last."

From next year a new electronic booking service will also see GPs give patients information not just on which hospitals they can be referred to, but their ratings and waiting times as well.

"I want to make sure that patients really are in a position to do something about the information they now have for the first time," he said.

"Real patient power is not just about knowledge - it is about being able to act on that knowledge."

He said striving to hit targets has led to both staff and patients becoming demoralised and dehumanised in "what should be one of the most human organisations in the world".

"My offer to the NHS today is more transparency in return for fewer targets," he added.

Referring to the move towards a seven-day NHS, he said around 6,000 people die every year due to a lack of senior staff at weekends.

Mr Hunt added: "When I pointed this out to the BMA they told me to 'get real.'

"I simply say to the doctors' union that I can give them 6,000 reasons why they, not I, need to 'get real."

He is giving the union six weeks to negotiate changes to working contracts for hospital consultants and junior doctors, telling the King's Fund : "Be in no doubt: if we can't negotiate, we are ready to impose a new contract."

The BMA said doctors supported more seven-day hospital services but have repeatedly called for the Government to say how they will fund and staff the changes.

BMA council chairman Dr Mark Porter said: "Despite whatever the Health Secretary may claim, his simplistic approach ignores the fact that this is a much broader issue than just doctors' contracts.

"Today's announcement is nothing more than a wholesale attack on doctors to mask the fact that for two years the Government has failed to outline any concrete proposals for introducing more seven-day hospital services."

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