Steve Barclay – 2022 Update on the Department for Health and Social Care

The statement made by Steve Barclay, the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 5 September 2022.

Over the summer recess, the Department of Health and Social Care has made significant progress in many areas, both to prepare the NHS and social care systems for the winter and to lay the foundations for further improvements in the coming years.

In respect of preparations for winter, the Department has worked closely with NHS England and other Departments across Government to:

Widen and launch the covid autumn booster programme, including through the first approval worldwide of two “bivalent” vaccines, which protect against both the original and omicron strains of covid-19;

Increase capacity in primary care, including through additional roles in primary care;

Put in place plans to boost the NHS’s capacity by the equivalent of 7,000 beds, including through the use of innovative “virtual” beds;

Increase the numbers of call handlers in both the 999 and 111 services respectively, with a target of having 2,500 call handlers in 999 and 4,800 call handlers in 111 by the end of December; and

Agree a new ambulance auxiliary contract with St John Ambulance, providing at least 5,000 hours of extra support each month.

The Department, the NHS and local authorities also continue to work together to address ambulance handover delays and delayed discharges, including by identifying the actions for which NHS leaders are responsible, and those for which social care leaders are responsible, thus supporting accountability.

Over the summer recess, we have also been focusing on increasing the NHS and social care workforce, by drawing on both domestic and international sources, with the aim of increasing the capacity of the NHS and social care systems both in the short term and over time. Our international recruitment taskforce is developing plans for implementing a “support hub” to help care providers recruit from abroad, and the Department is laying regulations to help increase the capacity and capability of the professional regulators to test the standards of overseas recruits. We also launched a consultation on 28 August with the aim of extending “Retire and Return” NHS pension changes through to 31 March 2023, allowing retired and partially-retired NHS staff to continue to receive important pension changes if they re-enter the workforce. Further work is also under way, including the consideration of further options on the pensions of healthcare professionals.

The Department continues to work closely with NHS England to address the covid-19 waiting times backlog—104-week waits were virtually eliminated, in line with the elective recovery plan, and the NHS is making good progress to address 78-week waits by April 2023. In support of this:

A further 50 surgical hubs were given the go-ahead over the summer, in addition to the existing 91 surgical hubs;

A further seven community diagnostic centres were given the go-ahead. The programme has so far delivered an extra 1.7 million tests; and

Choice of provider at the point of GP referral will be available to all patients from April 2023 at the latest, supported by information to be made available to patients through the NHS app

A number of reforms looking to the long-term needs of the NHS and care system are also now under way:

Work led by Professor John Deanfield is considering how we better embrace home testing for a wider range of conditions through a modernised NHS health check;

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is expediting work to consider how to improve the uptake and adoption of well-evidenced MedTech; and

Standardised, modular hospital design—delivering scale and process efficiencies—will be adopted as the default for cohorts 3 and 4 of the new hospitals programme. Enabling works for the new hospitals at Whipps Cross, Kettering and Hillingdon have been unlocked, and the strategic outline case for Shrewsbury and Telford has been approved.

Good progress continues to be made on the development of framework 15 and the NHS workforce plan. The future needs of the NHS and social care systems are best met by a workforce which is trained flexibly, which is adaptable, which embeds new roles in clinical practice, and which allows all health and care professionals to practise at the top of their competence.

Taxpayers expect the Department and the NHS to continue to be effective stewards of public money. We have therefore imposed further controls on the use of consultancy, professional services and contingent labour, with the aim of generating at least £170 million of additional savings over this financial year, with further recurrent savings thereafter. We have also instituted new mechanisms to assist transparency: more than 50,000 people work in national and local NHS organisations which do not provide direct patient care; and to help those who work in the NHS and the wider public understand more about the value delivered, we are today publishing an organogram of the Department—to be made available on a searchable platform over the coming days—followed by searchable organograms for NHS England and the other national arm’s length bodies by the end of September. Integrated care boards are being asked to emulate this approach.

There has also been progress on a number of other very important issues including:

The publication of the women’s health strategy;

The launch of the Government’s dementia mission; and

Confirmation of interim payments to those who have been infected by contaminated blood and bereaved partners

In November 2021, the Government announced it would make £50 million funding available for research into motor neurone disease over five years. Following work over the summer with DHSC and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, through the National Institute for Health and Care Research and UK Research and Innovation, to support researchers to access funding in a streamline and co-ordinated way, we are pleased to confirm that this funding has now been ringfenced. DHSC and BEIS welcome the opportunity to support the motor neurone disease scientific community of researchers, as they come together through a network and link through a virtual institute.

The Department has taken these actions to help the NHS and social care systems be better prepared for the winter challenges ahead and beyond.