Echoing its founding ideals, Stephen Dorrell MP told health leaders that the challenge for the NHS today is to be “as good at prevention and rehabilitation” as it has become at treatment.
Delivering the Teddy Chester lecture at Manchester Business School, the former Health Secretary and recent chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said good health was not simply about the absence of disease. “We think health is something provided by doctors, but it is also about fostering a sense of well-being.”
Calling for a re-think of health policy, Dorrell said the Department of Health needed to engage “with less embarrassment” with the well-being agenda. “We have got ourselves into something of a dead-end, thinking that because the NHS is tax-funded, so health is tax-funded. But health is something more than just the delivery of high quality healthcare. If we think health policy is just the management of a hospital then we are missing huge issues.”
He questioned whether recent health reforms had led to real changes of policy. “Yes there were significant changes at the detail level, but in terms of policy prescription I would argue that nothing has really changed since Kenneth Clarke’s reforms in 1990. If you actually look behind the rhetoric, and behind the sound and fury, the differences between the parties are very small.”
Dorrell said Health Select Committees had an important role to play in improving health outcomes, such as changing the way we think about alcohol, sugar and fat consumption, just as we have changed our views on smoking. “It is a complete misunderstanding to think that the only people who influence policy decisions are those that sit behind political desks. Real power lies in the ability to win arguments.”
Meanwhile he said the issues health managers faced today were as challenging as those when Teddy Chester, a renowned health policy academic at MBS, was alive. “The delivery of healthcare remains a real management challenge.”
Kieran Walshe, Professor of Health Policy and Management said: “”It was hugely appropriate to remember Teddy with a lecture from someone who has worked at the interface between health policy making and practice as a politician, but who also understands the real world that medical practitioners spend their lives in. Stephen is a sensible, wise and pragmatic voice in health policy today.”