The new health secretary threw his weight behind his predecessor’s reforms and called for improved care of older people.
Jeremy Hunt described Andrew Lansley’s reforms – embodied in the Health and Social Care Act – as “brave” and “right”. He said he supported decentralisation and a plurality of provision.
“We will never meet the challenges we face with over a million people trying to meet a thousand targets to satisfy one Secretary of State sitting behind his desk in Whitehall,” he said.
He added: “Nye Bevan’s vision wasn’t about monopoly provision. It was about universal provision. And to deliver it we must understand the difference between the two.”
One of Hunt’s key priorities would be to improve the treatment of older people and those suffering from dementia.
He quoted a recent Royal College of Physicians report about the way older people are looked after in our hospitals, which said ‘the system continues to treat older patients as a surprise, at best, or unwelcome at worst’.
Hunt suggested the solution is to make NHS and care home managers to be more accountable, and has asked the Care Quality Commission to explore how it can be done. “I need to say this to all managers: you will be held responsible for the care in your establishments. You wouldn’t expect to keep your job if you lost control of your finances. Well don’t expect to keep it if you lose control of your care,” he said.
The health secretary also said the government would “face up to some hard truths about how we are going to pay for social care”. He said: “I am proud that next year’s Care and Support Bill will mean that no one is forced to sell their house in their lifetime to pay for care. A historic change. But we also want to go further and implement the Dilnot cap on social care costs as soon as we are able.”
But there were no commitments on time scale nor funding.
In a short speech, with little detail, the health secretary launched an attack on his ‘shadow’ Labour’s Andy Burnham.
“Last week Andy Burnham complained about Foundation Trusts setting their own employment conditions in the South West. But guess who was Minister when the act enshrining those powers got royal assent? Andy Burnham.
“He criticised private sector involvement in the NHS. But who was the Health Secretary who ensured a private company would run a district general hospital for the very first time? Andy Burnham.
“And finally he railed against so-called cuts. But whilst we are increasing the NHS budget by over £12bn, who was the Health Secretary who went into the last election saying it would be irresponsible to increase it? Andy Burnham.
“First rule of opposition Andy: criticise what the new lot do, not what you did yourself.”