This is the text of the speech given by Mr Jeremy Hunt, the Minister who oversees the running of the NHS and care despite having no legal statutory duty for it.
Today I am here to tell the British people that a future Conservative government will have no greater priority than to protect, support and invest in our NHS.
In 1948, the greatest of all Conservatives Winston Churchill supported the then Labour government in its plan to set up a National Health Service. He said ‘disease must be attacked whether it occurs in the poorest or richest man or woman simply on the grounds that it is the enemy.’
That safety net Churchill wanted is our NHS today, supported across the political spectrum.
Last week Labour tried to paint a different picture. They know this government increased the NHS budget despite the financial mess Labour left behind. They know the NHS has more doctors and more nurses than ever before. They know fewer people than ever are waiting long periods for their operations. They know the culture is becoming more caring. But they still seek to trick the public into thinking one party cares for the NHS and the other doesn’t.
Well I have a message for Mr Miliband. It’s not a Labour Health Service or a Conservative Health Service…it is a National Health Service. And when my father was cared for by a district nurse or my wife had our baby this summer or our son goes for his jabs, they aren’t Conservative patients, Labour patients or LibDem patients, they’re NHS patients. When people in this hall volunteer to support the local league of friends or join the board of a hospital we’re not Conservative supporters – we’re NHS supporters. We all support the NHS because the NHS is there for us all.
So don’t turn the National Health Service into a National Political Football and don’t use the NHS to divide us when it’s the fabric that unites our nation.
This morning the Prime Minister announced plans to make it easier for millions of people to get 8 till 8 and weekend appointments with their GPs.
And I want to start today by celebrating that and some of the other successes of our NHS, doing so well despite huge pressure.
Take cancer, our biggest killer. Every family in the country has lost a friend or loved-one to cancer – I lost my own father last year. It is a ruthlessly indiscriminate killer – whether it targets someone who has just retired after a life of hard work or a child with a life stretching out in front of them.
In 2010 this country had amongst the lowest cancer survival rates in Western Europe. So we set up the cancer drugs fund. We’ve transformed cancer diagnosis so the NHS now tests 1000 more people for cancer every single day. And so far this parliament we have treated nearly three quarters of a million more people for cancer than the last one – that’s thousands of lives saved, thousands of families kept together, thousands of tragedies averted. So let’s hear it for our brilliant cancer doctors and nurses.
Or look at dementia, one of the most terrifying conditions of all.
I’ll never forget the courage of man I met with dementia who single handedly stood up to the banks and demanded they gave him an alternative to having to remember a pin number. But it isn’t just your pin number that goes. It’s precious family memories, marriages of many years, relationships with children – all snatched away by cruel tricks of the mind. When we came to office fewer than half of those with dementia got a diagnosis, meaning many missed out on vital medicine or support for their family. We’ve now diagnosed an extra 80,000 people. The Prime Minister hosted a G8 summit to get the drug companies to do more to find a cure. And we’re working with the Alzheimers Society to enroll one million dementia friends to tackle stigma – with half a million signed up so far.
So let’s hear it for GPs, dementia nurses, dementia carers, dementia friends and people with dementia who are changing the way our society tackles this horrible condition.
Or A & E, the critical frontline for the NHS. A young A & E doctor told me how she had cried after seeing a 90 year old man say his goodbyes to a 90 year old woman he’d been married to for over 60 years. For her that was just part of the job. And with a million more people using A & E, the pressures on her and her colleagues are immense.
Sometimes, yes, it’s been tough meeting the target. But despite that we have halved the time people wait to be assessed and are treating nearly 2,000 more people every day within the four hour target compared to 2010. So let’s hear it for our brilliant A & E frontline staff now preparing for a challenging winter.
Conference our opponents say the NHS is in decline. But according to the independent Commonwealth Fund under this government the NHS became the top-rated healthcare system in the world. Better than America, better than France, better than Germany, better than Australia. And the way they rose to the challenge of Ebola says it all – with 164 NHS volunteers offering to go and help contain the outbreak in West Africa. So let’s hear it for all NHS doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, caterers, carers and volunteers. You are the best of British and the pride of our nation.
But that doesn’t mean things are perfect. About the first thing I did as Health Secretary was to read the original Francis report about the terrible things that happened at Mid Staffs Hospital between 2005 and 2009. I was utterly horrified. As Francis made clear, system-wide failings meant these problems weren’t limited to one hospital.
One member of the public wrote to me about what happened somewhere else in a letter that was so shocking I asked to meet her.
She said she visited her late husband in hospital at 5 in the morning and found him naked on a deflated mattress, caked in urine and excrement, and curled in a foetal position with a cold air conditioner blowing directly onto his body. She still has nightmares about that visit. Now that story, thankfully, is far from typical of our NHS.
But I vowed that day that if I did nothing else, I would make sure I returned a culture of compassionate care to every corner of our NHS. Because caring is what the NHS stands for, what every doctor and nurse passionately wants, why the NHS was set up – and what a quagmire of targets, goals and plans too often allowed to be squashed.
Supported by a wonderfully committed ministerial team – Freddie Howe, Norman Lamb, Dan Poulter, Jane Ellison and George Freeman – we’re changing things.
We introduced a tough new inspection regime.
Since then our hospitals have hired over 5,000 more nurses to tackle the scandal of short-staffed wards; 5 hospitals – Basildon, North Lincs, George Eliot, Bucks and East Lancashire – have been put into special measures and been turned round; and patients are saying that they are treated with dignity and respect not just at Mid Staffs but across the NHS the highest numbers ever recorded.
Indeed on Friday of last week the CQC announced the first hospital in the country to get an ‘outstanding’ rating, Frimley Park in Camberley. Chief Executive Andrew Morris is so committed he has been there for 25 years and his son even works there as a porter. Well done to Frimley Park.
Now the problems of poor care highlighted by Robert Francis happened under Labour – so I thought Labour would rush to support me in sorting them out. In fact they did the opposite. They said talking about poor care was ‘running down the NHS.’ They even tried to vote down the law setting up a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals.
I’ll tell you what ‘running down the NHS’ is:
- It’s not learning the lessons when a mother is forced to give birth on a toilet seat, as happened in 2007. Ignored by Labour, being sorted out by us.
- It’s making hospitals Foundation Trusts even when their mortality rates are too high. Brushed aside by Labour, being sorted out by us.
- It’s stopping the CQC telling the truth about blood-stained floors in one hospital. Happened under Labour, stopped by us.
It happened in England before and it’s happening in Labour-run Wales today – so don’t you dare talk to us about running down the NHS.
Because for Labour good headlines about the NHS matter more than bad care for patients – and in our NHS nothing matters more than patients and whilst I am running it nothing ever will.
I simply say this to a Labour Party that still refuses to learn the lessons of Mid Staffs, until you do, you are not fit to run our NHS. And if you won’t put patients first we will – and it will be the Conservative Party that completes Nye Bevan’s vision for an NHS that treats every patient with dignity and respect. We will finish the job.
I could go on with my concerns about the culture Labour left behind in our NHS. But I want to look forward and deal with one of the biggest concerns people have about the NHS which is about funding.
Labour talked about putting in more money last week. But securing the NHS budget isn’t about an extra billion here or there. It’s about funding over £100bn, which is what we spend on the NHS every year. And that needs a strong economy. Because it’s very simple: you can’t fund the NHS if you bankrupt the economy. This parliament we’ve actually increased spending on the NHS by more – in real terms – than Labour promised last week. We’ve done it because of David Cameron’s personal commitment to the NHS and difficult decisions taken by George Osborne.
Other countries followed Labour’s advice. They ducked those decisions. They had no plan – and ended up cutting their health budgets. Italy by 3%, Greece by 14%, Portugal by 17%. I don’t want that to happen here.
So never forget we’ve just had the greatest squeeze on finances in NHS history because a Labour government lost control of our national finances. So to anyone worried about investment in the NHS I say this: a Labour government with reckless economic policies is the biggest single danger to funding our NHS. Do not take that risk. Nor should we forget that every penny of NHS funding comes not from the government but out of the pockets of hard working taxpayers. So if we increase spending on the NHS we must also look every one of them in the eye and promise that every penny is being spent wisely. Which means we mustn’t stop new ideas that come from outside the NHS – whether from charities or, yes, the independent sector.
Labour call this privatisation. But using a charity like WhizzKids to supply wheelchairs to disabled children or using Specsavers to speed up the supply of glasses is not privatisation. When the last Labour government used the independent sector to bring down waiting times that wasn’t privatisation either. So stop scaremongering about privatisation that isn’t happening. It nearly cost us Scotland – and we won’t let it poison the debate in England as well. Secure NHS funding backed by a strong economy is the foundation.
But the building blocks to a modern health service are two things that need real cultural change.
Personal care – a real challenge as patients navigate one of the biggest organisations in the world. And personal control – in a world which has too often said the doctor, not the patient, knows best.
I remember when I did a shift in an A & E last year. A 90 year old lady with dementia was brought in by ambulance after a fall in her care home. She was completely motionless. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t feed herself or even drink a glass of water. What made it worse was that in that A & E we knew next to nothing about her. We didn’t have her medical record. We didn’t know her allergies. We didn’t know if she was normally able to talk or whether it was just because of the fall. To us at that hospital she was not just unknown. She was anonymous. How could we possibly give her the personal care she desperately needed?
The same could happen to any one of half a million over 90s in our society. And it could happen to anyone with long term or mental health conditions, anyone of whom can find themselves anonymously pushed from pillar to post in a system that doesn’t know who they are. But for me the point of the NHS is to make sure all everyone gets truly personal care from people who know about them, know about their condition, know about their care plan – so that what happened in that A & E never happens again.
As a first step that needs the integration of the health and social care systems. And for the first time ever this year it is happening. 150 local authority areas working together with their local NHS on their Better Care plans to pool commissioning, reduce emergency admissions and share medical records all starting from next April – with many of you in this hall involved.
But truly personal care means more than joining up health and social care. It means personal, responsive care from your GP too.
Last year I manned the phones in a busy London GP practice. The doctors there worked very hard. But what was frustrating was having to tell nearly every caller there were no appointments available for two to three weeks.
We urgently need to make it easier for busy, working people to get an appointment. That means more GPs, so I can today confirm plans to train and retain an extra 5,000 GPs.
But it also means new ways of working. Last year we announced plans for 7.5 million patients to get weekend and 8 till 8 appointments. Today we have also announced we are rolling that out to millions more – meaning this service will be available for a quarter of the whole population. And going even further, I commit that at the end of the next parliament a Conservative government will make sure every NHS patient across the whole country will be able to get weekend and 8 till 8 GP appointments.
But personal care isn’t just about a convenient appointment. It means talking to a doctor who knows about you and your condition.
Astonishingly in 2004 Labour abolished the requirement for every patient to have their own, named, personal GP. At a stroke, many patients were told they no longer had their own GP, but were merely attached to a surgery. And GPs were told they were no longer personally responsible for patients. If you have a chronic condition or complex needs, continuity of care is absolutely vital. You don’t want to have to explain everything about yourself over and over again – and you want a doctor who takes ongoing responsibility for sorting things out – not just that day but every day.
So last year I changed that back for over 75s by insisting they get a GP named on their medical record and responsible for their care. Today I can go further and announce that in the new GP contract for 2015 every single person in England will go back to having a family doctor named on their record and responsible for their care.
Personal care for every NHS patient – delivered by this government. People want personal care. But in the 21st century they want something else. Not just personal care but personal control. People with diabetes, or a heart condition, or recovering from a stroke say the best person to take control of your care is not actually your doctor – it’s you. And right now we make that far too hard. We don’t give people enough information.
So this summer we became the first country in the world to publish detailed information about safety, waiting times, patient experience and food for every major hospital. And on the new MyNHS website we’ll go further.
But it isn’t just information about your local hospital you want, it’s information about you. So today I can confirm that by April next year, every patient in England will be able to access their own medical record online – the first country in the world to take this huge step. It means you will no longer have to pay to access your medical record. You’ll be able to see it and show it to anyone you choose. You’ll find it easier to do detailed research about your condition and easier to challenge decisions. Because the boss is not the doctor – it’s you. Nothing about me without me. Personal control of your health delivered by this government.
Conference my vision is simple. We in this party have always believed passionately we should honour our debt to previous generations. So I want Britain to be the best country in the world to grow old in. I want us to enjoy the fruits of prosperity, yes, but never forget the people before us who’ve worked hard to make that possible. Never forget that all our success, all our strength, all our wealth as a country is but a hollow dream if at the end of it we are not able to give all our citizens the healthcare and support they need in old age. Never forget that it’s not a choice between a strong economy or a strong NHS. You need both and only one party – this party – can deliver both. A strong NHS. A strong economy. From a Conservative party proudly rebuilding a strong country. Personal care. Personal control. For patients treated with dignity, compassion and respect. Delivered by our party. For our NHS. For our country.