Confed17: Day one as it happened

Jim Mackey and Niall Dickson

The NHS workforce, public involvement in decision making and transparency in messages were themes heard throughout day one of Confed17.

A workforce honoured

NHS Confederation chair Stephen Dorrell paid tribute to health and care staff at the top of his Confed17 speech, saluting them for giving of themselves to help others.

Opening Confed17, the organisation’s annual conference and exhibition in Liverpool, Mr Dorrell honoured the extraordinary commitment shown by Guy’s and St Thomas nurse Kirsty Boden in response to the London Bridge attack.

Welcoming over 2,000 delegates to the conference, the former secretary of state made workforce the golden thread throughout his speech, saying NHS staff must be fairly rewarded for the commitment they make.

Touching on the general election, Mr Dorrell noted that Pandora’s box had been opened – then closed – on social care. “The parliamentary arithmetic changes some of these issues.”

View his full speech.

‘More than a wobble’

The point was picked up in the panel session that followed, which featured the views of three leading health journalists and broadcasters on what the election means for the NHS.

“No clear, strategic direction anytime soon,” said The Times’ Chris Smyth. The prospect of implementing the Five Year Forward View is also thrown into doubt.

Chris shared the stage with Channel 4’s Victoria MacDonald and Paul Stephenson, former DH special adviser and director of comms for the Vote Leave campaign.

The Conservative Party’s initial social care plans were seen as an attack on the elderly, were ‘badly handled’ and ‘more than a wobble’, said Victoria.

Picking up the point, Paul advised the audience not to expect major wholesale reform on social care in this parliament. Promised legislation on the internal market is unlikely to get through, he said.

Paul, the comms engine behind ‘that’ Brexit campaign bus, was repeatedly pressed on the campaign promise of the £350m spent on the EU being used on the NHS. He defended the campaign bus as being ‘right’, fighting off questions from fellow panellists on the controversial sum.

In a wide-ranging debate, the journalists tackled questions on the election campaign and manifestos, social care, local government, prevention, public health and the role of the media.

Watch the session.

NHS Brexit Strategy 

Brexit was discussed in more detail in the next panel session on the NHS Brexit Strategy, which saw Niall Dickson launch the Brexit Health Alliance – a new coalition of 14 organisations that will seek to ensure that issues such as healthcare research, access to technologies and patient treatment are given the attention they deserve in Brexit negotiations. 

Elisabetta Zanon of the NHS European Office expressed the sense of urgency in Brussels to begin negotiations and the impatience at the pace of progress so far in the 12 months since the referendum. 

‘Negotiations will be complex,’ she said, ‘but the EU must first settle the terms of the divorce before negotiations can start on free trade with the UK.’ Elisabetta highlighted citizens’ rights, financial settlement and the Northern Ireland border as the first priorities for discussion.

Nadra Ahmed of the National Care Association echoed the view from the panel and the audience that the NHS workforce is a key priority for Brexit negotiations, ‘You can throw all the money at the NHS as you like – if we haven’t got the workforce we can’t deliver,’ she said.

The discussion ended on a call from a delegate for confirmation that all negotiations involve discussions with patient and the public in the initial stages, and that messages are transparent. This, it was argued, will help to alleviate the fears and uncertainties that the public and patients are currently experiencing. 

Progress, but…

Jim Mackey praised system leaders for their efforts to bring the NHS’ books back into balance, but warned that tough times lie ahead.

In a keynote address, he revealed that the NHS had broken even in the fourth quarter of 2016/17 – a ‘fantastic achievement’ for a system under incredible pressure. 

But he cautioned that issues around money are likely to be harder in 2017/18. The ‘incredible effort’ seen in 2016/17 came on the back of ‘short-term instruments’, he said.

View what else his speech revealed.

Save the NHS

Why are people trying to ‘save’ the NHS from transformation, was a question debated intensely in the afternoon’s first panel session. 

Chaired by Rob Webster, representatives from Healthwatch, Eastbourne’s Save the DGH (District General Hospital) campaign and National Voices all gave their views on sustainability and transformation partnerships, and what they mean for the NHS. 

Despite some contrasting views on STPs’ benefits, the panel and the audience all agreed that engagement with patients and the public should have been the foundation of the plans, with honest conversations about what they involved and how communities would be affected. 

‘People don’t like being patronised and told they won’t understand complex issues,’ said Imelda Redmond of Healthwatch. She stated that the public are passionate about the NHS, so any conversations about change need to be dealt with in that emotional space. ‘Be clear, be accessible and don’t use jargon,’ she said.

A view echoed by David Lock QC of Save the DGH, who said: “Campaigners campaign in poetry, but the government talks in prose. Engagement with the public won’t be achieved until this culture clash between head and heart is resolved and all sides speak the same language.”

Niall Dickson

Positioning himself as a poet, or at least someone who appreciates poetry, Niall Dickson quoted Robert Burns in the closing keynote address of the day, stating that we need to see ourselves how others see us – “We need to put ourselves in the position of others and rise above sectional interests,” he said. 

“The schisms between health and care services have hampered us for too long and we now have a chance to put them aside.”

He turned the uncertainty of the current UK political environment into a potential opportunity, urging the government to have a national conversation to agree a future vision for health and care services. 

Current structures are not fit for purpose, 95 per cent of healthcare leaders said in a recent NHS Confederation poll.

You can watch Niall’s speech on our watch again web page.

Continuing on from Stephen Dorrell's tribute to NHS staff this morning, a main stage session featured staff from across the emergency services involved in treating victims of the Westminster, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks.

Thinkers and leaders

Wrapping up day one, health think tank leaders and health service leaders debated what the NHS needs to see in the Queen’s speech and what should appear in the new government’s 100-day programme.

Points of discussions, consensus and contention included funding, reconfiguration, workforce, social care, clinical leadership, capital investment and Brexit.
Catch up on the session featuring Dr Amanda Doyle, Julian Hartley, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Nigel Edwards and Chris Ham.

Take a look at our Twitter highlights from day one


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