Health Secretary Matthew Hancock was right with his three key priorities – but there’s much hard work ahead

Congratulations to West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock who is now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

We feel proud that a Suffolk MP is in such a prestigious position and we look forward to continuing our close working relationship.

It was interesting to note his three key priorities:

  • Workforce
  • IT
  • Prevention

I would agree with all of them but make some observations.

1. Workforce

 90% of all consultations in the NHS occur in primary care. Yet there is a pressing shortage of staff – not just GPs but also practice nurses and other healthcare professionals.

There is no quick fix to this situation. It’s developed over many years for a variety of reasons. The repeated desire to expand community services and move care closer to home has not been accompanied by funding and staffing to support this.

We need to make the profession more attractive and address workload issues. Suffolk GP Federation has been supporting collaborative working and innovative models of care involving an increased skills mix, working at scale and streamlining administration.

Mr Hancock’s department and NHS England must actively demonstrate that primary care and those that work in it are valued as the cornerstone of the NHS.

2. IT

Mr Hancock’s interest in digital technology and artificial intelligence has been well documented and he wants to make more use of it within the NHS.

But before we push too far along this path we need to make sure the basics are working properly first. Key priorities should be:

  • Improved co-ordination between GP IT systems. When we at Suffolk GP Federation have tried to employ new, innovative ways of working, often the IT services are the biggest handicap
  • Record sharing. Educating patients about the value of record sharing with a consideration of automatic ‘opt-in’ would be far more efficient than the current practice of asking patients individually. Our experience is that only a tiny minority decline to share their records across heath providers.
  • Digitisation of GP records. This would free up considerable space.
  • Integration between hospital and community IT systems. There is significant duplication of work reconciling medication from hospital letters and discharge summaries. These could be added on in secondary care, increasing efficiency and reducing delay and risk of error.

3. Prevention

Prevention has been a cornerstone of the NHS reports ever since I have been a GP, but it has never been associated with appropriate resources to support it.

Central Government has a key role in changing behavior (take for example the effect of the smoking ban) and could do more to influence alcohol intake and healthy lifestyle.

This has also been noted as a priority in the North East Essex and Suffolk Sustainability and Transformation Plan and significant funding needs to be allocated to resource it.


We wish Mr Hancock every success. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of hard work ahead.