Matt Hancock defends NHS reform plans amid 'power grab' accusations

11 February 2021, 14:19 | Updated: 11 February 2021, 14:29

Matt Hancock said "there is no better time than now" to reform social care
Matt Hancock said "there is no better time than now" to reform social care. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Matt Hancock has defended proposals to reform the NHS and social care in the face of accusations of a "power grab" by critics.

The Health Secretary pledged to "make the system work for those who work in the system" as he set out his plans to MPs on Monday.

Making a statement on the future of health and social care, he told the House of Commons the white paper "enables greater integration, reduces bureaucracy and supports the way that the NHS and social care work when they work at their best together.

Read more: Plans for more integration of NHS and social care to 'cut bureaucracy'

"It strengthens accountability to this House and, crucially, it takes the lessons we have learnt in this pandemic of how the system can rise to meet huge challenges and frames a legislative basis to support that effort.

"My job as Health Secretary is to make the system work for those who work in the system - to free up, to empower, to harness the mission-driven capability of 'team health and care' - and the goal of this White Paper is to allow that to happen."

He added there was "no better time than now" to carry out social care reform but Labour has questioned the timing of the proposed shake-up.

The paper will give more powers back to central government and Mr Hancock's office - reversing reforms made under David Cameron to give NHS trusts and GPs more autonomy.

It has prompted accusations of a "power grab" by Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who questioned how the plans will improve care.

Responding to Mr Hancock's statement, he said: "Staff on the front line are exhausted, underpaid. The Royal College of Nurses says the NHS is on its knees.

"Primary care and CCG staff are vaccinating and will be doing so for months ahead, including possibly delivering booster jabs in the autumn. And today we learn that 224,000 people are waiting over 12 months for treatment.

Read more: One third of all Covid-19 patients in England's hospitals admitted in January 2021 alone

"And this Secretary of State thinks this is the right moment for a structural reorganisation of the NHS?

"Now we will study the legislation carefully when published but the test of his reorganisation will be whether it brings waiting lists and times down, widens access, especially for mental health care, drives up cancer survival rates and improves population health."

He added: "Fundamentally, how will this reorganisation and power grab improve patient care? He didn't mention waiting times in his statement, it's only mentioned once in the leaked White Paper."

Mr Hancock hit back, saying the White Paper will give the public confidence that the health system will respond to their needs.

He told MPs: "The White Paper will ensure a system that is accountable. Ministers have rightly always been accountable to this House for the performance of the NHS and always will.

"Clinical decisions should always be independent but when the NHS is the public's top domestic priority, with over £140 billion of taxpayers' money spent each year, and when the quality of our health care matters to every single citizen and every single one of our constituents, of course the NHS must be accountable to ministers, ministers accountable to Parliament and Parliament accountable to the people we all serve.

"Medical matters are matters for ministers. The White Paper provides a statutory basis for unified national leadership of the NHS, merging three bodies that legally oversee the NHS into one, as NHS England.

"NHS England will have a clinical and day-to-day operational independence, but the Secretary of State will be empowered to set direction for the NHS and intervene where necessary.

"This White Paper can give the public confidence that the system will truly work together to respond to their needs."