Steve Barclay – 2023 Speech to Conservative Party Conference

The speech made by Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in Manchester on 3 October 2023.

Thank you, Luke.

As Health and Social Care Secretary, what drives me is getting people the care they need, more quickly.

Boosting capacity, expanding our workforce and embracing technology that will help tackle waiting lists.

But today, I also want to tell you about the long-term decisions that we are taking to support the NHS; to give patients more control and choice and to take on those – like militant union leaders and Labour MPs supporting them on the picket line – who want to block these changes.

We’re taking immediate action to tackle challenges in the NHS and in Social Care.

Putting 800 new ambulances on the road.

Delivering 5,000 permanent hospital beds.

And creating 10,000 hospital-at-home places for patients to receive care in their own home.

And we’re making the biggest ever increase in social care funding with a record uplift in the autumn statement last year.

But Conference, as a Conservative what matters to me most is not inputs – it is the outcomes for patients.

We are making significant progress with the help of new technology.

Take strokes.

We are using AI to speed up brain scans – meaning thousands of patients have fully recovered who may not have.

And by the end of the year, this technology will be available in all stroke units in England.

We are also upgrading the NHS to offer patients a choice of up to five different healthcare providers – including independent providers – following a GP referral which the Patients Association say can reduce waits by up to three months.

Bu I also know that it can sometimes take too long to roll out new innovations nationally, even when they have been proven to work in local pilots.

So today, conference, I am announcing the creation of a new £30-million fund to speed up the adoption of tech in the NHS.

This will enable clinicians to adopt proven technology that can improve patient care.

These could include new tools to detect cancer sooner, to help people receive treatment in their own home or increase productivity to tackle waiting lists.

Projects will be delivered in this financial year – getting benefits to patients as quickly as possible.

We’re focused on getting the very latest technology into the hands of doctors and nurses so they can benefit you when you need it.

And that’s the mission I share with my fantastic Ministerial team – with Will Quince, Helen Whately, Maria Caulfield, Neil O’Brien and Lord Markham.

All supported by our brilliant PPSs Gareth Bacon and Duncan Baker, and our fabulous whips Faye Jones and Lord Evans.

But, Conference, I want to be clear: We want to give patients more choice and control over their care and we can only do that with long-term thinking.

Take our Long-Term Workforce Plan. The largest expansion in training in the history of the NHS.

The first time in the history of the NHS that a government has been willing to set out a plan for the next 15 years for recruiting and training doctors, nurses, paramedics and other vital staff.

And to show we are already delivering on that plan, I’m delighted to announce today that we are making additional medical school places available at universities for next September.

Most of these places will be targeted towards three new medical schools at the Universities of Worcester, Chester and Brunel.

With further places for two universities here in the Northwest – the University of Central Lancashire and Edge Hill.

This is alongside our new pilot for medical degree apprenticeships.

A new route into medicine for young people yearning to train to become a doctor but who want to take a vocational route, because our party is the party of real opportunity for anyone, no matter where you come from.

And conference – our plan is not just about more staff.

It is about using this powerful moment for reform using our Brexit freedoms.

Shorter degrees.

New roles.

And more ways onto the NHS career ladder.

Better for patients and the taxpayer.

Now conference, my own background in the private sector taught me that organisations run more efficiently when you look to outcomes, not the inputs.

Being focused on the end point means you cut down on waste.

That’s why I brought in Steve Rowe, the former Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer – to scrutinise our Departmental spending.

With a budget of £190 billion, there are always opportunities to get more resources from the backroom to the front line.

When I was appointed, I put in an immediate recruitment freeze in place, which has reduced the department’s headcount by a sixth and we are closing half of the department’s offices.

That’s less money on the back-office and more money on frontline.

To deliver the long-term change the NHS needs, we need a relentless focus on patient outcomes and that means prioritising frontline resources.

It does not mean spending huge sums of taxpayer’s money on diversity consultants or hiring bloated internal diversity and inclusion teams.

And it does not mean ignoring patient’s voices – especially women’s voices when it comes to the importance of biological sex in healthcare.

If we do not get this right now, the long-term consequences could be very serious for the protection of women and future generations.

And Conference, I know as Conservatives, we know what a woman is and I know the vast majority of hardworking NHS staff and patients do too.

That is why I ordered a reversal of unacceptable changes to the NHS website that erased references to women for conditions such as cervical cancer and stopped the NHS from ordering staff to declare pronouns to each new patient.

And that is why today, I am going further; by announcing that we will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year to make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women.

Now, Conference, if all of that seems like simple common sense, that’s because it is.

And yet every step of the way we have faced opposition from the usual suspects when we are trying to do the best for patients.

You probably saw some of them on your way in this morning.

The militant BMA leadership – whose strikes have resulted in countless cancelled appointments and pose a serious threat to the NHS’s recovery from the pandemic.

Their Consultants and Junior Doctors Committee are relentlessly demanding massive pay rises.

Even if that means diverting resources from patients. And despite junior doctors having already received a pay rise of up to 10.3%.

But it doesn’t end there.

They are even threatening to take the Government to court over our plans to let patients see their own test results on their own phones, rather than taking up a GP appointment.

This clearly shows that the BMA leadership is not on the side of change, and they are not on the side of patients.

And then there’s Labour.

Keir Starmer’s MPs continue to join the BMA on the picket line.

You only have to look at Starmer’s own plans for the NHS to see that Labour will always bottle it and take the easy way out.

When his own proposals on workforce were published, there was nothing on reform whatsoever. No shorter courses. No new roles. Just more of the same.

His Shadow Health team won’t back our rollout of new obesity drugs on the NHS via primary care.

Game changing new treatments that can give people struggling to lose weight a real helping hand.

Labour don’t want to embrace innovation.

Instead, the left like to lecture people on what they eat and drink.

Look at Labour run London.

Sadiq Khan has banned Wimbledon adverts on the underground.


Because photos of strawberries and cream breach health advertising rules set by City Hall.

And in Wales, Labour has banned meal deals that include a sandwich with a bag of crisps at a time when families are concerned about the cost of living.

Now, Keir Starmer says that Wales is the ‘blueprint for what Labour can do in England’.

But their record on health makes for grim reading.

As a result of Labour’s short-term thinking, patients in Wales are twice as likely to be waiting for treatment than in England.

No wonder that the number of patients in Wales escaping to seek treatment in England has increased by 40% in two years.

So, the next time you hear Labour telling people that they have easy answers to the challenges our health system faces remind them that Labour is letting people down in Wales.

Now Conference, it is only by taking on those who resist change that we can make sure the NHS is there for us and our loves ones in the future.

So, let’s stand up to a militant BMA leadership that does not accept the need for reform.

Let’s challenges the ideologues who silence the voice of women.

And let’s be very clear that we won’t take lectures from a Labour Party that has utterly failed patients in Wales.

Conference, we will achieve it by coming together as Conservatives.

Showing our values, our vision, our drive will deliver an NHS that gives people more choice, more control and, above all, puts patients first.