The new head of the NHS has used a speech in the North East to call for “a new course” in the health service after a year of crisis.
Simon Stevens, 47, spent his first day as chief executive of NHS England meeting staff and patients in the North East after starting his career in the region 26 years ago.
And in a speech delivered to hundreds of NHS staff, health professionals and researchers at Newcastle’s Centre for Life last night he said the NHS must “think like a patient, act like a taxpayer” as it faces financial strain.
Mr Stevens, a former adviser to both Tony Blair and one-time Health Secretary Alan Milburn, takes on the health service’s top job after predecessor Sir David Nicholson took early retirement after the Mid Staffordshire scandal rocked people’s faith in the NHS.
Acknowledging that the “NHS stakes have never been higher”, Mr Stevens admitted that “the NHS is facing its most sustained budget crunch in its 66-year history.”
He said: “Our traditional partitioning of health services – GPs, hospital outpatients, A&E departments, community nurses, emergency mental health care, out of hours units, ambulance service and so on – no longer makes much sense. There’s growing consensus on that.”
Mr Stevens added that there were big challenges ahead in dealing with dementia, obesity, inequalities and mental health.
“An ageing population with more chronic health conditions, but with new opportunities to live as independently as possible, means we’re going to have to radically transform how care is delivered outside hospitals,” he said.
But he also insisted that the NHS was among the best health services in the world, saying: “I know of no other country’s health system which has managed this economically turbulent period better.”
Last night, health unions welcomed Mr Stevens praise of NHS whistleblowers in saving lives, yet highlighted concerns about NHS staffing levels in delivering care in the community.
Estephanie Dunn, Royal College of Nursing operational manager, said: “There is much to be optimistic about in his speech. The RCN also wants to see more support for whistleblowers, who are integral to ensuring that patient care and clinical excellence are put first.
“While we support delivering care ‘closer to home’, better integration of health and social care, and the delivery of high quality specialist care in specialist centres of excellence, none of this can be an excuse for under-resourcing the NHS simply because there is not the political will to explain that high quality universal care does not come cheap.”
Trevor Johnston, Unison lead officer for health in the North East, said there needed to be much more investment in staffing levels to ensure patients get the best care possible.
He said: “The idea of having services in the community, and people treated closer to home is laudable. Yet what does not exist is any funding to do it properly. There is no joined up thinking.”
Mr Stevens will be paid the same as Sir David – £211,000 per year – but has offered to take a 10% pay cut in the first year due to “NHS spending pressures”, NHS England said.