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Health leader calls for radical change to UK’s ‘reactive’ health approach

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation, delivered a keynote speech at NHS ConfedExpo on Wednesday.

Staff on an NHS hospital ward at Ealing Hospital (PA)

The UK’s approach to health policy and the NHS is “not fit for purpose”, the boss of NHS Confederation has said.

Matthew Taylor said the “time is right for radical change” and called for a “re-imagining” of the current “fundamentally reactive” approach.

Speaking at NHS ConfedExpo in Manchester on Wednesday, Mr Taylor said: “In the conversations I have with you as leaders I hear a lot about day to day challenges.

“But I hear something else; I hear a yearning for a vision of a health service that, as well as balancing the books and investing wisely, is achieving better outcomes and restoring that lost public confidence.”

He said a “recognition that our current approach to health policy and the NHS is no longer fit for purpose” should be “at the centre of such a vision”.

“It’s a time not just for new policies and commitments but for a fundamental re-imagining,” Mr Taylor told delegates.

“We could be at the dawning of the biggest change in the way we think about health policy and the role of the NHS in our 75-year history.”

A reactive model, which involves waiting until people are sick, “is generally the least clinically effective and most expensive way of improving health outcomes”, Mr Taylor said.

“Secondly, being reactive reinforces inequalities as it means we tend to respond to demand not need

“And third, it means that when we engage people – when they are worried or unwell – they are less likely to feel a sense of agency and more likely to feel dependent.”

He warned that the “platform is burning” with the “twin challenges of an ageing population and rising expectations of access to new and often expensive forms of treatment”.

Other factors make the UK’s situation “particularly difficult”, Mr Taylor added.

“As a society we are living longer but not living longer with good health.

“Add to this modest economic growth, hostility to high rates of immigration, and we face the NHS and care system eating up a higher and higher proportion of public spending and one in five of our national workforce.

“This is the danger we see unfolding before us; a vicious cycle of higher sickness, lower growth and an NHS stuck in perpetual crisis management.”

He told delegates: “Unless we improve the health of the nation the NHS will be stuck and the country’s economy held back. The failure to act on this irrefutable fact is made more frustrating when important wins could be achieved at relatively little cost.

“History tells us that concerted and determined action can make a difference. In living memory we have removed lead from petrol, halved teenage pregnancy, slashed smoking rates.

“Why can’t we do the same with the same determination to tackle the obesity crisis?”

Mr Taylor called for more health devolution to ensure issues are tackled at a local level.

He added: “Devolving from the centre is not about evading accountability it is enabling us to be more accountable to our local partners and responsive to the communities we serve.”

Industrial strike
Matthew Taylor said NHS Confederation has been ‘supportive’ of junior doctors, but described their upcoming strike – days before the General Election – as ‘futile and very damaging’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Taylor also described the upcoming junior doctors strikes, which will take place from June 27 to July 2, in the run up to the General Election, as “futile and very damaging”.

“We at the Confed have been supportive of the case made by junior doctors,” he said. “We have repeated our call for political leaders to commit to positive talks with the BMA (British Medical Association) and other unions.

“But holding five days of strike action during a period when nothing can be done to resolve the dispute, is futile as well as very damaging.”

It comes after NHS Confederation called on politicians and the BMA to come to a compromise in a bid to avert the disruptive walkout.

It said the main parties should promise to reopen negotiations with junior doctors within 10 days of forming a new government.

In return, doctors in training should call off the strike, the NHS Confederation said.

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