This site is intended for UK healthcare professionals
Medscape UK Univadis Logo
Medscape UK Univadis Logo

England's New Health Secretary Optimistic on NHS Challenges

England's new Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has suggested she will take a fresh approach to dealing with NHS strikes and plans to find a "fair and reasonable resolution".

In a video message to the NHS Providers' annual conference in Liverpool, she told delegates she is "an optimist". Ms Atkins said she plans to work with staff to overcome the challenges in the health service and "take the long-term decisions that will build a brighter future for our NHS".

She added: "This is the approach I will take to industrial action.

"I'm acutely aware of how the strikes have disrupted patient care and I'm committed to getting around the table, because I want to see a fair and reasonable resolution."

At the start of her message, she said she wanted to "start by thanking you all for all the fantastic and vital work that you do".

"A Lot of Work to Do"

She said there is "a lot of work to do" as Government reforms "bed in" and the NHS faces a tough winter. We know winter will be challenging, but this year we have all started to prepare earlier than ever before," she said.

"Using our recovery plan, we can continue to expand capacity, build resilience, and deliver better care. This has to be our number one priority. I recognise that this requires working collaboratively with other organisations and sectors – for example working with the police to support people suffering from mental health crises."

She told staff they have "overcome a once-in-a-generation pandemic" and are working to tackling waiting lists.

She finished off by thanking staff, adding: "Let's roll up our sleeves and get on with the job. Now's the time to deliver for patients and deliver for our NHS."

Talks on Doctors' Strikes

Discussions between doctors' leaders and officials at the Department of Health and Social Care are ongoing on the best way to resolve strikes.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard told the Providers' conference about the first phone call she had with Ms Atkins after she became Health Secretary. Asked what the first question she asked Ms Atkins was, Ms Pritchard said: "I wonder if you'd be interested to know the first question she asked me?

"The first question she asked me was 'What can I do to help you?'

"We then had a very wide-ranging discussion, but it will be unsurprising to know that one of the first things we talked about was industrial action.

"So, we've been really clear, we have consistently… talked about the impacts industrial action has had on patients, talked about the impact that it's had on our own teams and colleagues, talked about the impact it's had on finances, but also called on all sides to work together to find a resolution."

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told the conference resolving the strikes was critical. She said: "The thing that we have been calling for on your behalf and will continue to call for until it's resolved – is to see the industrial action behind us.

"We know what an impact that has had on staff, on patients, on the ability to see people in a timely fashion, to really get through those very long waiting lists. And I don't just mean in acute trusts or hospitals, I mean across all services who've been feeling the impacts of that, and that means mental health, community and ambulance services as well.

"We really need to see that industrial action behind us, and I was very heartened to hear Victoria's approach there in the film, which really focused on coming to the table and negotiating, having a conversation and listening.

"That feels so important, and I think there's even more reason for hope than there has been over the last few weeks where we know that talks have been underway."

It comes as Ms Pritchard announced that NHS staff have diagnosed 475,573 people with dementia in September – up more than 52,000 on the same time last year. Diagnosis rates are now at a three-year high.

NHS England launched pilots last December to increase diagnosis, with health professionals going into care homes to assess older adults who may have missed checks during the pandemic.