NHS bureaucracy is a “barrier to progress” and is getting in the way of patients being treated, Theresa May said yesterday as she unveiled plans to overhaul David Cameron’s health reforms.
The Prime Minister also made clear that she wants to the National Health Service to make better use of advances in technology to ensure that ill people can better more quickly.
Mrs May was unveiling plans for a £20.5billion investment in the NHS for the five years from April 1 next year, funded from a “Brexit dividend” and an increase in people’s taxes.
In a speech at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, Mrs May said the NHS – which will publish a 10 year plan later this year – had to change to ensure the money is not wasted.
She said: “It must be a plan that tackles wastes, reduces bureaucracy, and eliminates unacceptable variation, with all these efficiency savings reinvested back into patient care.”
Mrs May said that her reforms meant “removing any barriers that hold back progress. I believe that right now, parts of our regulatory framework might be doing just that.”
She criticised hundreds of NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, which were only set up to buy in care for patients by former Tory Health secretary Andrew Lansley in 2012.
She said: “It is a problem that a typical NHS Clinical Commissioning Group negotiates and monitors over 200 different legal contracts with other, different, parts of the NHS.
“It is too bureaucratic, inhibits joined up care, and takes money and people away from the front line.”
One trust chief executive had told her that “sometimes you can spend so long reporting and providing assurance about the organisation you are trying to help, that you don’t actually have time to do the work that’s needed”.
In the speech to mark the NHS's 70th birthday, Mrs May said that “a critical part of the long-term plan for our NHS must be to change this”.
She said: “Where legislation is making it harder for professionals from different parts of the NHS and different local authorities to work together – we should be prepared to change it;
“Where it is resulting in overly bureaucratic processes – we should be prepared to change it;
“And where it is making it harder to hold NHS leaders accountable for delivering better outcomes for people – we should be prepared to change it.”
Mrs May added: “This must be a plan that ensures every penny is well spent.”
On paying for the changes, Mrs May said that some of the £20.5billion will be covered by cash which the UK will no longer send to Brussels after Britain leaves the European Union.
The rest will be raised from taxpayers. Mrs May hinted that one idea was to freeze income tax thresholds for income tax bands, as disclosed in Monday's Daily Telegraph.
She said: “Across the nation, taxpayers will have to contribute a bit more in a fair and balanced way to support the NHS we all use.
“We will listen to views about how we do this and the Chancellor will set out the detail in due course.”
On staffing Mrs May said she wanted to see trained medical staff who are doing administrative jobs to be able “return to patient care in some way”.
She added: “More immediately we will act to increase the number of trained healthcare professionals in those areas of the NHS that are experiencing the greatest pressures.”
The 10 year NHS plan had to be “a plan that enjoys the support of NHS staff across the country – not something dreamt up in Whitehall and centrally imposed”.
Mrs May said she wanted to “expand the boundaries of what the NHS can do in the future, in the fastest, safest and most ambitious way possible”.
Mrs May said she wanted to see more innovation over the way patients were treated. She said: “Our long-term plan for the NHS needs to view technology as more than supporting what the NHS is doing already.”
Examples ranged “from blood pressure cuffs to smart inhalers and remote sensors that can detect changes in heart rhythm and track them on your phone”.
As a Type 1 diabetic Mrs May said she had benefited from technology because she had “recently changed the way I monitor my blood sugar so I don’t need to prick a finger for blood so often”.