Since having been appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care a few weeks ago, I have had a bit of time to get my teeth into the new role before I returned to Suffolk recently to give my first major speech on health at the West Suffolk Hospital. I have used my time to think about what my priorities will be for the NHS. And although this appointment was unexpected, the subject of health has always been extremely important to me, as it is to my West Suffolk constituents.
One of my priorities is the emphasis on prevention. The old saying of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really does ring true. What I mean by prevention can be summed up in a few points: I want to keep people healthy and treat their problems quickly, I want to empower people by giving them the tools they need to manage their own physical and mental health needs closer to home and I want to deliver care in the right place settings. A local organisation that is bringing the kind of programmes to help people to lead healthier lives is OneLife Suffolk. Their combination of NHS health checks, stop smoking sessions, health walks and physical activity support for those with some long-term conditions and weight management advice go a long way to encouraging local people to take responsibility for their health and to make the kinds of changes now that will hopefully lead to good health outcomes in the future. The importance of individuals taking personal responsibility for their health, is to be encouraged and supported by the state. Programmes to ensure that people do not go on to develop longer and more serious health problems are vitally important -the goal is to tackle health problems at source and keep people at home and out of hospital as much as possible, rather than spending money on sorting things out later in hospital.
Another one of my priorities in my role as the Health and Social Care Secretary is the importance of digital technology in every part of our lives - and the increased and welcome use of technology in the NHS is no exception. I am passionate about the opportunities that new technology, used intelligently, present to us. A few weeks ago, I announced a half a billion pound package to help jump start the rollout of innovative technology aimed at improving care for patients and supporting staff to embrace technology-driven health and care. More than £400 million will go towards new technology in hospitals which make patients safer, make every pound go further and help more people access health services at home. There is an increasing number of patients using online services in the NHS—about a quarter of patients are now registered to access GP services, up from a fifth of the population only a year ago. And apps are increasingly popular in the world of healthcare, and I want to encourage the use of this kind of modern technology. Not only do I have my own app for communicating with my constituents in West Suffolk, but I use an app for my GP. But as much of a proponent of digital technologies as I am, I also recognise that living in a digital world is not for everyone. So the economic savings that we make when patients who want to access services through technology do so, can free up resources, so that more can be done for those who do not want to use technology.
But any great organisation is nothing without great people at the heart of it. There are millions of people who turn up to work every day in our health and social care facilities to improve the lives of complete strangers. I hugely admire the people who work in our amazing NHS locally – at West Suffolk Hospital, at Newmarket Hospital, all the GPs and their staff, and less well known but vitally important staff who work as mental health nurses, as community nurses, and as support staff.
So as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS, I am incredibly optimistic about its future. I have always valued the NHS and consider it to be one of our country's greatest achievements. As a country we have decided to invest £20 billion more in funding for our NHS which signifies the importance that our citizens place on the institution. I am honoured to be taking on this incredibly important role at such a crucial time in its history. There is a lot of work to do, and I can't wait to get started.