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My commitment to the NHS is personal, says new Health Secretary

Matt Hancock praised the NHS for helping his family ‘at one of our toughest moments’.

The new Health and Social Care Secretary has spoken openly about his love for the NHS, which saved his sister’s life after a horse riding accident.

In his first speech since being appointed to the role, Matt Hancock said his commitment to the health service was not just professional but “deeply personal”, after it helped his family through the emotional time.

Speaking publicly about his sister’s accident for the first time, Mr Hancock said: “I have never had a moment where somebody so close has been at a risk of dying.”

Professional rider Emily Gilruth, 41, was in a coma for four days after she fell and hit her head while competing at Badminton Horse Trials in May last year, at the same time her brother was campaigning for his seat in the general election.

Addressing staff at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds on Friday, Mr Hancock said: “I have always valued the NHS but it was really brought home to me last year when the NHS was there for us at one of our toughest moments as a family.

“Last summer my sister sustained a very severe head injury, it was touch and go, and her life was saved by the intensive care unit at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, where she stayed for a week, most of it in a coma.

“Thanks to their care she has now recovered.”

He added: “I love my sister and the NHS saved her life, so when I say I love the NHS, I really mean it.

“My commitment to the health service and the fundamental principles that underpin it is not just professional, it is deeply personal.”

Mr Hancock, who was standing for re-election in West Suffolk, revealed he spent hours in the waiting room at the hospital and heard first-hand from staff about their experiences working within the health service.

“It was a very traumatic time for us all as you can imagine,” he told reporters following his speech.

“It was in the middle of the 2017 general election campaign, so I was not having a very good time.

“She was cared for by the intensive care unit who kept her alive, and then helped her recover.

“There are so many families in the country who, like me, have had the NHS come to their aid at their most difficult times.”

Mr Hancock wore an NHS badge given to him by predecessor Jeremy Hunt to deliver his first policy speech, in which he listed supporting the workforce, technology and disease prevention as his early key priorities.

He announced a £487 million funding package to create the “most advanced health system in the world”, and vowed to drive culture change, working with staff to embrace the latest technology and innovation.

The health service is already working with Amazon so expert health advice from NHS Choices can be tailored for voice activated devices such as Alexa, the former secretary for digital, culture, media and sport revealed.

Mr Hancock, who described himself as “the greatest enthusiast of technology on the planet”, told hospital staff: “From today, let this be clear: tech transformation is coming.

“The opportunities of the this new technology, done right across the whole health and care system are vast, so let’s work together to seize them.”

Earlier this week, in an interview with Health Service Journal, NHS England head Simon Stevens hinted that the four-hour A&E waiting time target may be outdated.

The standard, which means that 95% of patients should be admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within four hours, has often been seen as a barometer of how the NHS as a whole is performing.

When asked if he would commit to performance measures being hit, or whether he would be prepared to roll back targets, Mr Hancock said: “The NHS has asked whether we can ensure that those targets are more clinically appropriate and they want to give me that advice.

“I have spoken to Simon Stevens about that and I look forward to him coming forward with a view.

“But clearly, those targets are the Government targets, but I’m also aware that from a clinical perspective we have got to make sure that the targets that we set are the very best for improving outcomes for patient care – because that is what our remit is.”

The appointment of Mr Hancock, after Mr Hunt was moved to the Foreign Office, comes as the NHS develops a 10-year plan for its future.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to boost funding by around £20 billion a year in real terms by 2024.

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