Hunt exclusive: I’ve started so I’ll finish…

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt answers the questions you weren’t afraid to ask.

Jeremy Hunt - Web After the clinical waste left by Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, is keen to restore public confidence, establish clarity and, generally, galvanise a flagging NHS reform bill. In a Pf exclusive he takes his place on our imitation-leather hot seat, as readers (and writers) don ominous white outfits for a bit of ‘ultra-questioning’.

Since you took over the role as the ‘guardian’ of people’s health in the UK, what has surprised you most about the functionality of the NHS? – Iain Bate (Writer)
I’m very proud to be the Secretary of State for Health, and I know that a lot of people are incredibly passionate about our health service. The NHS is one of our greatest assets; it is admired around the world and has a reputation for excellence, but I want it to be even better.

The coming year will be an important one for the health service and my priorities are to improve care and nursing in the NHS; promote technology to make care more straightforward; and help people to feel in control of their health, supporting them to lead longer, healthier lives.

Given the rapidly expanding role of the private sector in the NHS, how will transparency in contracting be achieved? After all, business to business transactions are confidential. – Joel Lane (Writer)
We have always been clear that, whenever services are procured in the NHS, it should be through a fair and transparent process, judged on the quality of the care. This helps improve healthcare and enables patients to access the best possible services.

The Health and Social Care Act was the first piece of legislation to create rules and regulations around this process, making it more straightforward. It prevents discrimination in favour of private health companies over the NHS, and helps protect patients’ interests.

But it is worth remembering that charities, social enterprises and independent providers have played an important part in providing NHS care for some time. They offer patients more choice about how they are treated by the health service, and every year, a significant number of patients choose to be treated in independent hospitals, ‘on the NHS’.

The NHS is moving into an era whereby it will need to make decommissioning decisions which are unpopular, such as delivering services that patients will have to pay for. How do you aim to integrate this into the wider healthcare bill implementation? – Omar Ali (Pharmacist)
Let me be absolutely clear on this – the NHS will always be free at the point of delivery and no one will be asked to pay for its services. Yes, in the future, services will be provided differently – public health services will be organised by local authorities, for example – but the founding principle of those NHS services being free, for those who need it, will never change.

To some extent, the NHS remains a 1950s animal trying to survive in 2013. What are the challenges when it comes to changing an institution’s post war philosophies and encouraging it to embrace modern practices, without altering the fundamental concept? – John Pinching (Writer)
Of course the NHS has evolved over its 64 year history, and it continues to improve the lives of people up and down the country, but we have to guarantee that the founding principles of the NHS are protected.
I would like to see the NHS using technology more, while continuing to improve care and experiences for patients. That would mean people being able to book their GP appointments online, or those with long-term conditions managing their situation from home, digitally; saving time for both them and their doctor. Technology in the NHS is rapidly developing, and I would urge local doctors and nurses to embrace it.

Recently the Government announced that it will cap individual payments for social care at twice the Dilnot-recommended level, i.e. at about £70k rather than £35k. Will NHS funding for the less wealthy be increased, or will their suffering and avoidable death be allowed to escalate? – Susan Ranch (Key Account Manager)
This is incorrect. The Government has not said this and no decision has been made. I want this country to become one of the best places in Europe to grow old and make sure people can live independent and healthier lives into old age. As part of the care reforms, we committed to taking action: ensuring people do not have to sell their homes to pay for care. While we have also agreed that Andrew Dilnot’s model of the cap on care costs is the right basis for any new funding model. Given the current economic situation, we need to look carefully at how we can pay for this. 

You have acknowledged the differences within the UK of cancer survival rates and compared to other European countries. How can the pharmaceutical industry work with the NHS to help address these inequities? – Leigh Saunders (Key Account Manager)
The pharmaceutical industry already plays a vital role in improving the health of people with cancer. I want to improve mortality rates, where the targeting and development of medicines is becoming ever more important. I am sure the pharmaceutical industry will want to build on its work in this area and help improve cancer care.

Are you still encouraging British hospitals to sell their services abroad and, if so, what future plans do you have to support this? – Valerie Nolan (Clinical Nurse Specialist)
The NHS has many valuable assets, including products, technologies and knowledge. It makes absolute sense that the NHS should be able to use those assets to earn money, which it can reinvest back into patient care at home.

Through Healthcare UK – a UK government initiative in collaboration with UK Trade and Investment and the Department of Health – we are working on several very promising commercial opportunities to support those parts of the health service that can earn income abroad. Any investment generated will be put back into the NHS for the benefit of patients. Importantly, no part of the NHS will be forced to do this, and NHS patients will always come first.

At the current time, David Nicholson is praising the NHS for achieving a major reduction in referral rates, Diabetes UK, however, has noted that reducing referral rates has led to an increase in premature deaths and amputations in people with type 1 diabetes. Is this a case of cost saving targets being achieved at the cost of human lives?  – Nick Dawes (Sales Manager)
Patients should always get the care they need from the health service, and rationing services on the basis of cost alone is wrong and compromises that patient care. Decisions on treatments, including suitability for surgery, should be made by clinical experts taking the needs of each individual into account. We have already written to the NHS to set out clearly, that access to services should not be restricted on the basis of cost.

Should there be incentives in place for the private healthcare sector to expand and take on some of the load from the NHS, such as removing income tax on insurance payments? – Barry Rose (Independent Market Consultant)
The most important thing is ensuring everyone has access to the very best NHS care available and that those services are designed and provided to best meet the needs of the people who use them. This is why we are giving doctors, nurses and other health professionals more power to make decisions. They are the ones who know their patients best and will make sure that services meet the needs of their local communities.

Under this Government the NHS is performing well: waiting times are down, mixed sex accommodation has nearly been eliminated, we have the best ever record on hospital infections and access to dentistry has increased.