The speech made by Therese Coffey, the Deputy Prime Minister and Health & Social Care Secretary, in Birmingham on 4 October 2022.
Conference, I am delighted to be here in Birmingham for my first speech as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and as Deputy Prime Minister.
I was here just a couple of months ago for the Commonwealth Games,
And I was absolutely blown away,
by the Games themselves,
and also by how the city has been transformed since we were last here.
And that is thanks to Conservative Mayor, Andy Street.
Andy has shown,
That being ambitious for the people and communities he represents,
getting on with the job at hand,
and focusing on delivery,
is exactly what our voters want,
and why he was re-elected,
Conference, as a Conservative government,
we believe in the Great British people,
and we are ambitious for our country.
Despite the severe challenges facing the global economy, in the wake of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and the aftershock of Covid,
Now is the time we must come together,
to tackle the issues that we have long faced.
And we will take decisive action
to get Britain moving again….
… from getting Britain building,
to channelling investment into local areas,
to helping families get on in life.
We will deliver, deliver, deliver…
Our National Health Service has the admiration and gratitude of the British people, particularly for getting us through COVID.
The doctors, the nurses, the midwives, the paramedics, the chemists, the cleaners, and all the clinical and support staff,
As well as all the carers, working in care homes or our communities.
They regularly go the extra mile.
They are the pride of Britain.
The NHS is and always has been a national endeavour.
That was set out in 1944, when it was a Conservative politician, Sir Henry Willink, who put forward the proposals for “A National Health Service”.
That’s right, a Conservative MP,
from my home city of Liverpool,
who conceived the NHS,
– a good omen, I think!
And I continue to be proud of the many doctors, nurses, and dentists serving as Conservatives in Parliament,
far more than we see in the Labour Party.
And it is because of our Conservative Party’s commitment to the NHS,
…That we will be spending 173 billion pounds this year on health and social care, in England alone,
…up from 124 billion pounds when we entered office in 2010,
…and that’s accounting for inflation –
This has resulted in more doctors and nurses than ever before.
But, as Health Secretary, it’s my job to be honest, and level with you about the scale of challenge ahead of us.
I won’t be turning to Labour for solutions.
If you want to see the Labour Party running the NHS,
just look across the border into Wales,
where around 60,000 patients are still waiting for more than 2 years for treatment, higher than last year.
This isn’t the time for brickbats though.
It is precisely because healthcare matters so much
that we need to have honest discussion
and be prepared to hold the NHS to account
forging a partnership with them focused on delivery, not on dogma.
So, let’s be honest.
While most patients receiving care in our NHS have a good experience,
Too many do not…
…Whether it’s the 8am scramble to see a GP…
…Or the long waits to get tests or treatment…
Or the struggle to see an NHS dentist at all.
Much of this has been made worse by the pandemic.
And I must level with you,
Backlogs are expected to rise before they fall,
as more patients come forward for diagnosis and treatment.
But this isn’t just about Covid.
There is still too much variation in patient experience.
I saw that for myself this July when I went to A&E.
I waited nearly nine hours to see a doctor,
before being asked to return the next day for treatment.
Now I knew, from previous experience,
that would be too late,
so I took myself to a different hospital,
and was treated that same day.
That is the sort of variation we see across the NHS.
From two hospitals just a couple of miles apart, and it must change.
That is why my first job in the Department was creating Our Plan for Patients, which puts the needs of patients front and centre.
Our new Plan for Patients deliberately places an emphasis on primary care, the gateway to the NHS for most people.
It empowers doctors and nurses by reducing bureaucracy,
…which gets in the way of them doing their jobs.
And it seeks to improve performance across the country by unlocking data.
You may have heard ‘ABCD’ are my immediate priorities.
No, I wasn’t broadcasting my A Level results to the nation.
Nor was I reciting a new hip hop beat by Dr Dre.
Those four letters represent my commitment to focus – resolutely – on the issues that affect patients most:
Doctors and Dentists.
And with my excellent ministerial team,
and our very own in-house ministerial medic, Dr Caroline Johnson,
Together, we WILL focus on the issues that affect patients most
To deliver their priorities.
AND be their champion.
Starting with ‘A’ for Ambulances.
Access to urgent treatment can be life-saving.
When people phone 999 because they think they or their loved one is having a heart attack or a stroke, they want to know help will come,
and will come soon.
Let’s be clear,
Average waiting times are too long,
So, we are increasing the number of 999 call handlers.
And we must also get ambulances back on the road from handovers at hospitals,
so we are placing a laser-like focus on our most challenged trusts, because as we saw last winter,
nearly half of all handover delays were at just 15 trusts.
We also know to be able to admit more patients,
we need to open up more space in hospitals.
So we are acting immediately to create more capacity,
the equivalent of 7,000 more beds, this winter.
But it’s not just capacity in our hospitals we need,
it’s also in our communities,
to help support people…
…who could be cared for more appropriately at home or in a care home, rather than being kept in hospital, unnecessarily.
That is why the ‘C’ for care is such an integral part of Our Plan.
And why we have invested a further 500 million pounds this winter,
so local councils and the local NHS,
can work together to tackle delayed discharges.
It isn’t all about emergency care though.
It is also about diagnosis and treatment.
And that is where we go back to ‘B’ for backlogs.
The waiting list for planned care, made worse by the pandemic, currently stands at about 7 million.
This includes people waiting for diagnosis, to know if they need any treatment at all.
While, in England, we have now virtually eliminated waits of over two years,
we are speeding up our plans to roll out community diagnostic centres, as well as new hospitals.
And we will maximise the use of the independent sector too, when patients are waiting too long for treatment.
Lastly, but key is ‘D’ – for doctors and for dentists.
Now, I think it is perfectly reasonable when people need to see a GP, they should expect to do so within a fortnight.
Of course, I would like to be more ambitious, and while I will not be prescriptive on how GPs interact with their patients,
I am clear Patients must be able to see their doctors promptly.
To help achieve these priorities,
I will publish a lot more information for patients,
so they can see how their local NHS is performing, including their GP practice, and on access to NHS care and treatment.
Another key element is personnel.
I have listened to why people say they are leaving the NHS,
or what is holding them back, from offering more services.
And I am responding.
I am empowering GPs to use their funding more flexibly for the recruitment of more support staff, and making significant changes to pension arrangements.
I am extending the emergency clinical register,
so that health professionals who have come out of retirement,
can continue to practise for a further two years.
I am opening up more prescription capability and services to pharmacists.
I am investing in IT for telephony and digital appointments.
And I am making it easier for clinicians registered outside England to be accredited, to get to work more quickly, treating patients.
It is, frankly, bonkers, that we have restrictions on the recognition of doctors, dentists, and nurses within the UK itself.
That is why I am laying regulations next week,
…which will allow the General Dental Council to get on with accrediting dentists to work right across our United Kingdom,
so we can have oases of oral care, rather than dental deserts.
This is all on top of our existing commitments,
to boost the health and care workforce,
including our manifesto pledge to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024.
Whether you live in a city or a town,
in the countryside or on the coast,
this Conservative Government will always be on your side,
when you need care the most.
This is just the start of our ambitions for health and care.
Our Plan informs patients and empowers them to live healthier lives.
Because we know prevention is better than cure.
It is right we continue our longer-term health approach,
Strengthening mental wellbeing and resilience,
as well as the physical health of the nation,
because that is also good for the economic health of the nation.
We have a record number of people, in work, on the payroll, but there are many vacancies still to be filled.
We know work is good for you,
both physically and for mental wellbeing,
as well as putting more pounds in your pocket.
That is why I will strive to support
those not working now due to ill health,
to help them to start, stay, and succeed in work;
building on the Prime Minister’s pledge to have more mental health support in communities.
Because together, we can deliver a healthier, more productive society, all the stronger, to help grow our economy.
As the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street,
she has three clear priorities:
growing the economy,
tackling energy security and costs for households and businesses;
and the NHS.
When I first went into the Department,
I asked what the biggest risk was this winter and what we could do to help?
I was told – help with energy bills,
so older people would not worry about the cost of turning on the heating,
and for health and care providers too.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor listened.
They have delivered.
And we need to act on growing the economy too.
We need a strong economy to have a strong NHS.
We need a resilient, sustainable economy,
to have a resilient, sustainable NHS.
And we need a compassionate, and considered, Conservative government,
to deliver, deliver, deliver.
And that, Conference,
is what we will do.