Jeremy Hunt has revealed his top priorities for the forthcoming “long term plan” for the NHS, and said it will represent one of the “big moments in NHS history”.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ about the plan – which has been promised by the prime minister for the NHS’s 70th birthday – the health and social care secretary said:

  • The plan should include “full integration of the health and social care system”
  • Over the 10 year plan period, the NHS will need to become “massively more teched up”
  • The plan is likely to identify “really big efficiency improvements” which can be made over 10 years
  • Meeting core performance targets, such as those for waiting in emergency departments and for planned operations, will be an “early milestone” for the NHS in the long-term plan.

Speaking about the need for a long-term vision, Mr Hunt told HSJ: “We have got a million more over 75s in 10 years time staring at us at the end of the railway track, and we have to decide, are we going to be logical… and start planning for it, or are we going to make do with haphazard planning year in year out?

“This is one of the big moments in NHS history and we have to be Singaporean about this [and] plan for the long term. What I would like to see is a better deal for patients, for the taxpayers and for NHS staff.”

Setting out the principles he wanted to see underpin the plan, Mr Hunt told HSJ: “If we are going to have a 10 year plan then let’s be ambitious about some big things that we can really sort out because 10 years is long enough to make really big changes. The full integration of the health and social care system is an obvious example.”

It echoes previous government plans under Mr Hunt, who in 2015 told HSJ that “for all intents and purposes we are now saying that we want to fund a fully merged health and social care system”, but may also indicate a serious intent to bring about such a major reform under the government’s long-term NHS plan and social care green paper, also due this summer.

Mr Hunt added: “Let’s be very ambitious… to me one of the things that is very obvious if you look 10 years ahead is that we are going to be massively more teched up in our use of IT, so we must make sure we are at the forefront of that change in medicine.”

Mr Hunt indicated that transforming services in order to ease pressure in the emergency care system during winter would also be a priority.

“We need to be able to commit to NHS staff that we are not going to see 10 more winters like the winters we have just had where staff are under enormous pressure,” he said.

“They need to see the transformation plans, the move to integrated care, the move to improved out of hospital care. They need to see plans really happening so that we can reduce pressure on our emergency departments.”

Asked about headline emergency department and elective waiting time targets, Mr Hunt said: “That would be an early milestone that we would be looking to achieve. We certainly wouldn’t want to be waiting 10 years to achieve the core performance standards, which are an essential part of our promise to the British public.”

He also said, in relation to efficiency: “For taxpayers, what they want to see is that the money is really being used wisely. Just as we take a 10 year perspective on the exciting things we can improve for patients, we take a 10 year perspective on really big efficiency improvements that we can make.”

Asked whether he thought there were significant further efficiencies available to the NHS, he replied: “There is a huge amount more but it is not by asking NHS staff to work harder because they couldn’t work harder than they are working.

“If you look at the productivity of nurses using out of date IT systems, with a modern IT system they could be spending far more of their time with patients.

“If you look at the potential for artificial intelligence to help radiologists interpret scans, if you look at some of the things we are starting to do but could go a lot faster on like centralising procurement, there are lots of areas where we know that, with stability of funding, we could actually have a more efficient NHS.

“And that’s from the vantage point of being one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world.”

Long term plan

Theresa May announced in March that “this year… I do want to come forward with a long term plan… in conjunction with leaders of the NHS, with clinicians and health experts”. She said: “The government will provide a multiyear funding settlement in support of the plan, consistent with our fiscal rules and balanced approach, but ensuring the NHS can cope with the rising demand ahead of the spending review.”

The government is likely to want to make an announcement about the plan around the NHS’s 70th birthday on 5 July, although full detail – including on funding proposals – may be more likely later in the year.

Ministers have not so far given any indication of the scale of funding growth they envisage, which is subject to cross-government negotiations with the Treasury.

In March, Mr Hunt indicated he may support some form of tax or tax rise earmarked for health and social care.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated in recent weeks that he agrees with the need for a long-term funding plan for health and care, but is not in favour of a “hypothecated” tax.

Exclusive: Hunt seeks 'full health and social care integration' under new 10 year plan