NHS ‘needs an M&S moment’

  • 12th March 2024

Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, wants to modernise the NHS for the next generation

Victoria Atkins

The NHS needs ‘an M&S moment’ – embracing modernity and looking to the long term to transform outcomes and increase productivity.

This was the take-home message from Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, when she addressed the Nuffield Trust Summit following  Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget last week.

She said: “We are standing on the cusp of a medical revolution.

“Here, technology, personalised therapies, and better data can transform outcomes.

“The NHS, and indeed we, must seize this opportunity and look to the future – not restrict ourselves to what has always been done.

“In fact, it needs to have, to borrow a phrase, an M&S moment.

“This much-loved British brand, a stalwart of our high street for decades, realised change was needed and embraced modernity, pivoting towards the next generation, winning them over, and securing its long-term future.

“This is what the NHS needs to do to make sure it’s there for the next 75 years, just as it has been there for us.”

The next generation

And she said that the younger generation should not have to ‘foot the bill for an infinite increase in healthcare spending’, adding: “Young people not only pay for the NHS of today, but they will also use the NHS of tomorrow.

“We know that high costs of living and rising rents are making it difficult for our young people to make those long-term decisions that are so important to us all, such as buying a house or starting a family.

“The Chancellor’s Budget rightly recognised that we cannot continue to have a larger tax burden falling on a smaller number of working people.

“For me, the path we must take is obvious. We must build a more productive state, not a bigger one.

“Today there are 3.3 workers to support every pensioner.

“In less than 50 years, there will be fewer than two workers to support every pensioner, so we need to stop the next generation being dragged into a tax and spend black hole – where they put more in to get less out.

Losing faith

“This is a recipe not just for them losing faith in the institutions that we hold so dear, but also I worry for losing faith in capitalism and losing faith in our democracy.”

She said the Budget would support young people and growth in the economy which, in turn, would help pay for the NHS and meet the Government’s productivity goals.

Atkins said: “From 2010 to the start of the pandemic in 2020, productivity growth in the NHS outstripped the wider economy by more than 1% a year.

“But, since then, it has gone into reverse and the causes are complex.

“The pandemic has clearly increased demands on staff, and spending on agency staff has risen as a result.

“Our Long-Term Workforce Plan, the first in NHS history, will get this spending in check, reducing it by as much as £10bn over time.

“And we should also be frank about the significant problems and pressures that industrial action has caused across the system…

…including, sadly, the 1.4 million appointments and operations that have been cancelled since strikes began in December 2022.

“Nonetheless, a reasonable and fair deal can be struck, and I’m really pleased that unions are recommending our new offer to NHS consultants.”

Benefitting workers

And she said the 2p cut in National Insurance will grow the average nurse’s pay packet by more than £500 a year.

This is on top of the National Insurance cut already delivered this year which, taken together, will benefit the average worker by more than £900.

She also spoke about the impact technology, in particular Artificial Intelligence, will have on driving efficiencies and improvements in outcomes.

“It is our responsibility – and I would go as far to say, it is our duty – to prepare the NHS for the future.

“This is why we want to seize the opportunities of AI for the benefit of our health.

“It has already revolutionised stroke care across the NHS – halving the time it takes to treat people and tripling the number who recover to reach functional independence.

“Now we will use AI to potentially cut in half the form filling by doctors and nurses and upgrade over 100 MRI scanners across England so that more than 130,000 patients a year can receive their results faster.

Embracing technology

“This will allow them to start treatment sooner, free up clinicians to spend more time with patients who need them most, and save taxpayers money.

“And so that’s what I mean when I say that technology can make our NHS faster, simpler, and fairer.”

But she warned that poor performance ‘cannot be tolerated’ and ‘good performance must be rewarded’.

“To achieve this, by the summer NHS England will start reporting against new productivity metrics, not only at the national level, but also across integrated care boards and trusts,” she told the summit.

“And I want us to go further by introducing new incentives to reward providers that hit productivity targets.

“So, I want to see providers retain the surpluses they generate through productivity improvement and reinvest them in frontline services to support the clinicians who made these savings possible.”

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