As health secretary marks first 100 days he must acknowledge impossible choices NHS leaders face

Matthew Taylor responds to the health and social care secretary's speech to the Conservative Party Conference as he marks first 100 days in office.

5 October 2021

Responding to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care's speech at the Conservative Party Conference, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:

“As the health secretary marks his first 100 days in office it is important that he acknowledges the context in which NHS leaders have been working over the last eighteen months.

“They have steered the country through one of the biggest challenges it has ever had to surmount in the face of this pandemic, and examples of how well they have done this abound.

“However, it is crucial that we also acknowledge and understand the context in which the health service is now working, and that whilst making inroads into the elective care backlog and grappling with the ongoing pressures of COVID-19 are absolute known priorities, our members, alongside their clinical colleagues, are also facing impossible choices in terms of who they prioritise for treatment.  

"The Government must now be upfront and level with the public as to how long it will take to deal with the care backlog, whilst also accepting that the backlog will grow before it reduces.

“Leaders are working in very constrained conditions against a backdrop of high staff vacancies, and with an exhausted and tired workforce as we head into what many predict will be one of the most difficult winters the NHS has ever faced.

“Our members have consistently been open about the need to work together, as was the case throughout past waves of the pandemic.  It is these lessons, and those from past winters that they will aim draw upon to ensure that the competing demands are met, and in a way that no one organisation within a system becomes the point of failure.

“To do this they will need to be supported rather than threatened, and they will also need to be allowed the space and autonomy to lead locally to improve the health and well-being of the communities they serve."