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by GK Strategy 25th July, 2018
3 min read

Matt Hancock: the Health Secretary to modernise the NHS?

Theresa May’s emergency reshuffle is complete. With David Davis and Boris Johnson resigning over the Prime Minister’s Chequers deal, the “great survivor” and longest serving Health Secretary in history, Jeremy Hunt, has moved to the Foreign Office. Hunt’s replacement, Matt Hancock, has a huge task.

There is a bewildering range of issues for him to consider – from social care reform to a workable plan for winter, as well as delivering on the promises made on mental health and new contracts for GPs. However, his appointment also presents a big opportunity for the health service.

Hancock is an energetic, intelligent, and highly driven minister with a passion for digital. He could be the Health and Social Care Secretary needed, as the NHS tries to modernise and increase its efficiency through technology.

With Hunt in the position for such a long time, it is possible to forget how much of a difference a new Secretary of Health and Social Care in staff can make. Indeed, it represents a fundamental power shift in the NHS. However, if Hancock is to succeed, it is vital that he, like Hunt, finds his niche quickly. He must also establish an effective working relationship with Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England.

Like any cabinet minister new to a department, Hancock will want to make his mark on the job. He will want to show how he is different and setting out his priorities. Hunt was particularly good at the latter – quickly making patient safety his core focus. Hancock has clearly paid attention to his predecessor by immediately setting out his three priorities: workforce, technology and prevention.

Technology is arguably the area where Hancock will attempt to carve out his niche. He has already stated that he wants to drive a cultural revolution across the NHS. He wants to make the NHS “the most advanced health system in the world”.

During his first speech as Health and Social Care Secretary he announced that £487m was to be made available to the technology sector as part of a “transformation” of the health service. £412m is to be used to transform hospital technology and improve preventative care, whilst the remaining £75m will be used to replace existing paper-based systems.

Hancock’s commitment to digitisation of the NHS is a very welcome one. It is clear there is a need for better tools, processes and technology for the NHS to run more effectively.

The NHS is currently a mish-mash of ideas, pathways and systems that do not align together. This has led to variations in patient care. Systems are wrought with fragmentation. Technology created by different providers is embedded across the system, many of which are incompatible with newer technologies.

Hancock has indicated his desire to replace pagers with smartphone apps. He also will continue the roll-out of Scan4Safety – a barcode tracking programme in hospitals which traces patients and their treatments. This echoes NHS’s Digital’s commitment to fund data-sharing projects which join up data across the health and social care system.

As part of his new role, Hancock will also be accountable for the roll-out of the NHS app, due to be launched by the end of the year. The app will enable patients to access their own medical records and NHS 111 services, order repeat prescriptions, and obtain support for long-term conditions. Such technology has the ability to deliver care more quickly and accurately. It is essential to supporting the efficient co-ordination of person centred care.

With British politics currently so febrile, the need for Hancock to get to grips with his brief will feel more urgent than ever. The new Health and Social Care Secretary’s challenge will be to transform the NHS into a joined-up organisation, with fluid communication and robust processes. This is one of its greatest weaknesses at present, but with Hancock’s enthusiasm and affinity for technology he may be able to turn this weakness into one of its greatest strengths.

 

For more information on how GK can help you navigate the fast-changing health market, contact jack@gkstrategy.com

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