NHS Administration – more Kant

Health service facing biggest challenge in its history, new NHS chief says

Budget cuts and ageing population’s growing demand for care mean ‘stakes have never been higher’, says Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens: ‘Service pressures are intensifying and longstanding problems are not going to disappear overnight.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

The NHS is facing the biggest challenge in its 66-year history and must radically change how it cares for patients in order to cope with intensifying pressures, the service’s new boss has warned.

A budget squeeze combined with a growing demand for care driven by the ageing population means that “for the NHS the stakes have never been higher”, Simon Stevens will say on Tuesday – his first day as NHS England’s chief executive.

He will use a speech in Newcastle to mix praise for the NHS he has inherited with a clarion call to its 1.3 million staff to embrace major changes to their roles over the next few years in order to improve the quality of care patients receive.

“I know that for the NHS the stakes have never been higher. Service pressures are intensifying and longstanding problems are not going to disappear overnight,” Stevens will say. “Successfully navigating the next few years is going to take a team effort, involving the biggest team in the biggest effort the NHS has ever seen.”

In his first public statement Stevens will identify improved care of older people, better joint working between the health and social care services and new models of care, which harness advances in medicine as being among his key priorities.

An NHS facing new challenges will need to find new solutions to stay sustainable, he says. “An ageing population with more chronic health conditions, but with new opportunities to live as independently as possible, means we’re going to have to radically transform how care is delivered outside hospitals,” he will add.

Stevens, 47, will also plead with the many different types of staff who work for the NHS to move beyond divisions and work much more closely. “Our traditional partitioning of health services – GPs, hospital outpatients, A&E departments, community nurses, emergency mental health care, out-of-hours units, ambulance services and so on – no longer makes much sense”, he will say.

Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association, said that Stevens – a health adviser to Tony Blair’s government from 1997 to 2004 – is arriving when “the NHS is facing a perfect storm of rising demand, funding pressures and worryingly low staff morale”.

Both he and Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, cautioned that Stevens would have to confront problems created by the coalition’s shake-up of the NHS in England last year, especially involving competition.

With the service still digesting the lessons of the Mid Staffs scandal, Stevens will acknowledge that, while “the quality of NHS care is usually very high, occasionally it isn’t”. He will also laud the key role of whistleblowers in exposing poor care and warn that “an NHS with a ‘like it or lump it’ attitude will simply not survive”.