Health Secretary Victoria Atkins slams ‘old boys’ network’ running the ailing NHS and says it’s vital to ‘level the playing field’

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • The 51-page Times Health Commission report proposed ten recommendations
  • It also called for student loans to be written off for medics, nurses and midwives

Victoria Atkins today slammed an ‘old boys network’ running the NHS for holding the ailing health service back.

The Health Secretary insisted the male-dominated hierarchies enforced when the NHS was established in 1948 had ‘stayed entrenched in the system over the following decades’. 

Instead, she told The Times Health Commission it was vital to ‘level the playing field’ and ensure the barriers holding female staff back were removed. 

The Commission’s wide-ranging report, published today, concluded that bullying, sexual assault and arrogance remain rife in the NHS ‘to the detriment of patients’. 

Almost a third of female surgeons have been sexually assaulted by a colleague in the last five years. 

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins (pictured) insisted the male dominated hierarchies enforced when the NHS was established in 1948 had ‘stayed entrenched in the system over the following decades’. Instead, she told The Times Health Commission, it was vital to ‘level the playing field’ and ensure the barriers holding female staff back were removed

Ms Atkins, who took over from Steve Barclay in November, said the reforms must guarantee the culture is respectful and dignified.

She also called on the health service to ensure NHS facilities provide free hot meals to the workforce, as a mark of thanks. 

The year-long commission found hospital staff face a poor working environment which sees them often struggle to even make a cup of tea or eat a warm meal during their shifts. 

Ms Atkins said: ‘Why aren’t we providing hot meals? 

‘How can we thanks members of the workforce, not just doctors, but nurses, anesthetists, others who are working through the night, or at the end of a long shift?

What is the plan put forwards by The Times Health Commission? 

Set up in January last year, The Times Health Commission spoke to more than 600 witnesses including senior doctors, hospital managers and politicians.

Today the Commission outlined its 10-point plan to overhauling the health of the UK.

It acknowledged that some proposals could be implemented immediately, but others would take longer to come into effect. 

The 10-point plan includes:

1. A digital health account for all 

2. Weekend high intensity theatre lists to tackle the backlog

3. A new GP contract

4. Student loans to be written off for doctors, nurses and midwives who stay in the NHS

5. A no-blame compensation scheme

6. A National Care System, equal but different to the NHS

7. Mental health support for children guaranteed within four weeks

8. An expanded sugar tax, introduction of a salt tax and curbs on marketing of unhealthy food to children

9. A boost to research by giving senior clinicians protected time

10. A Healthy Lives Committee to improve healthy life expectancy by five years  

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‘How can we say to them “thank you, you’re really valued.” How can we help people juggle that work-life balance?’ 

She also called on hospitals to ‘try to find a better way of helping doctors with working conditions’, especially when drawing up work rotas. 

NHS staff have long highlighted issues they face when trying to take annual leave.

Some have told how hospitals refused to let doctors take time off for their own wedding. 

Others have revealed they were told to use holiday entitlement rather than compassionate leave to attend funerals of relatives.

Ms Atkins urged wide-ranging reforms to ‘ensure that the culture is respectful and dignified and caring, not just to patients but to colleagues as well’. 

The commission, led by a panel of experts from across health and social care, spoke to more than 600 witnesses including senior doctors, hospital managers and politicians. 

These included Sir John Bell of Oxford University, Sir Andrew Dilnott and Lord Rose.

Under one of 10 recommendations proposed by the Commission, it called for every NHS patient to have a digital health account, allowing their full medical record to be stored in one place. 

By accessing them through the NHS App, it would allow patients to contact doctors, order prescriptions and book appointments all in one place. 

Similar systems are already live in Spain, Singapore and Denmark. 

Currently up to one in 10 UK hospitals are still entirely paper-based. 

There are also ‘between 40 to 60’ different types of electronic patient records, the commission said. 

Polling by YouGov, for the commission, found 81 per cent of the public backed the ‘patient passport’ recommendation, with just 10 per cent against. 

Another proposal involved launching a national scheme of weekend high-intensity theatre (HIT) lists once a month in 50 hospitals, to record backlogs. 

It is hoped this would help get through a week’s worth of planned operations in a day. 

Other recommendations include writing off student loans for doctors, nurses and midwives who stay in the NHS to improve retention, expanding the sugar tax and taxing salt, and adopting an NHS-style service for social care.

Some proposals could be implemented immediately, others will take longer to come into effect, the commission acknowledged.

Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and Times Health commissioner, said: ‘The NHS is entering a critical period. Demographic changes and other pressures on the NHS are a serious threat to maintaining a comprehensive health system in this country.

‘We also urgently need a shift to preventing illness, a more personalised approach to healthcare, and an NHS where patients are active participants in maintaining their own health and these things can only be achieved using data and technologies such as artificial intelligence.’ 

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