Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has conceded in public statements that some areas of the NHS in England are facing “completely unacceptable” problems.
Hunt admitted that there are no excuses for some of the problems that have been highlighted by the media recently.
Following a week of investigations by the BBC, increasing waiting times in Accident and Emergency and patients being stranded for hours on trolleys were both revealed.
Sir Robert Francis QC, who investigated failings in Mid Staffordshire, believes that the NHS is facing an “existential crisis”.
Commenting on NHS England, Hunt suggested that central to the solution to the problem should be treating more patients “at home and in the community”.
The Health Secretary suggested that a large transformation programme is already being implemented, and called for patience as this initiative will take time to transform outcomes.
Hunt also suggested that healthcare systems all over the world are struggling to deal with similar demographic issues that are prominent in Britain.
“We are trying very hard to sort out these problems. Where I disagree with some of the BBC’s coverage is the idea this is a problem unique to the NHS.”
The Health Secretary indicated that there is no silver bullet to solve the problem of the greying British population, and also placed on the current issues in context.
Hunt noted that France and Germany, who both spend more than the UK on health, did not do as well as the NHS on 14 out of 35 measures; thus querying querying the assumption that investment is necessarily the solution to NHS malaise.
Of course, this means that France and Germany did do at least as well on the NHS in 21 out of 35 measures, so one might perhaps question the validity of this point!
Also on the agenda, according to Hunt’s comments, is a serious focus on the problems in social care.
“The prime minister has been very clear. We recognise the pressure’s there. We recognise there is a problem about the sustainability of the social care system. That has to be addressed and we are going to do that.”
Hunt claimed that there are positive indicators in the health service as well as negative, and backed the NHS to get back on track in the foreseeable future.
However, Sir Robert Francis, a non-executive director at the Care Quality Commission, contradicted the analysis of Hunt, suggesting that financial difficulties and underfunding were central to the ongoing crisis in the healthcare system.
“There is an increasing disconnect between what is said nationally about the NHS and what people on the ground feel or see is going on. The message is put out that we are putting more money into the service than we ever did and it is the best health service around. But against that there is a front-line feeling that things have never been as bad as they are now and we can’t deal with the pressures”.
Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth challenged the government to make more money available to the NHS and social care in particular, but also acknowledged that the Health Secretary was beginning to understand the scope of the challenge.
“A few weeks ago the prime minister was glibly dismissing concerns as amounting to nothing more than a ‘small number of incidents’. I’m pleased the secretary of state is waking up to the scale of the crisis.”