New Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has revealed she is an “optimist” who will take a different approach to negotiating with doctors in a bid to end strikes.
He told health chiefs at the annual NHS providers conference in Liverpool that he will “come around the table” to find a “fair and reasonable resolution”.
In a pre-recorded video message, Ms Atkins said she plans to work with staff to overcome challenges in the health service and “make long-term decisions that will build a better future for our NHS”.
He added: ‘This is the approach I will take to industrial action.
“I am well aware of how the strikes have disrupted patient care and I am committed to sitting around the table because I want to see a fair and reasonable resolution.”
He told health chiefs at the annual NHS providers conference in Liverpool that he will “come around the table” to find a “fair and reasonable resolution”. In a pre-recorded video message, Ms Atkins said she plans to work with staff to overcome challenges in the health service and “make long-term decisions that will build a better future for our NHS”.
Official figures also show that waiting lists for routine NHS procedures have also soared to a new record, with around 6.5 million patients in England waiting for 7.77 million appointments and procedures in England. But the Treasury has refused to fully bail out the health service, forcing administrators to scale back plans to clear the backlog.
NHS strikes have led to the cancellation of more than 1 million appointments and operations and cost around £1 billion.
The Treasury has refused to fully bail out the health service, forcing administrators to scale back plans to clear $7.8 million in arrears.
At the beginning of her message, Ms Atkins said she wanted to “start by thanking you all for the fantastic and vital work you do”.
He added: “I’m sorry I can’t be with you in Liverpool, but I’m really looking forward to meeting you and working with you in the coming weeks and months.”
‘It is a real pleasure and privilege to be your Health and Social Care Secretary.
‘My belief in our NHS and its founding principles is one of the reasons I entered politics.
‘Now I know you may hear this often, but for me it’s truly personal.
Like families across the country, I owe a lot to our NHS.
‘He has cared about me and my family and has brought my wonderful son into the world.
“I want to make sure he is here in fighting condition for our children and grandchildren, just as he has been here for us.”
Ms Atkins said there is “a lot of work to do” as government reforms take hold and the NHS faces a tough winter.
“We know winter will be a challenge, but this year we have all started preparing earlier than ever,” he said.
‘Using our recovery plan, we can continue to expand capacity, build resilience and provide better care.
This has to be our number one priority.
“I recognize that this requires working collaboratively with other organizations and sectors – for example working with the police to support people experiencing mental health crises.”
He told staff they have “overcome a once-in-a-generation pandemic” and are working to address waiting lists.
He ended by saying his gratitude to the staff is sincere, adding: ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with the job.
“Now is the time to deliver for patients and deliver for our NHS.”
Discussions continue between medical leaders and Department of Health and Social Care officials over how best to resolve the strikes.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard spoke at the provider conference about the first phone call she had with Ms Atkins after becoming Health Secretary.
When asked what the first question she asked Ms Atkins was, Ms Pritchard said: “I wonder if you would be interested in knowing the first question you asked me?”
Official data published last month shows that more than 100,000 hospital appointments in England were rescheduled due to strikes by British Medical Association (BMA) consultants and junior doctors in October. Radiologists also joined the picket lines.
‘The first question he asked me was ‘What can I do to help you?’
‘We then had a very wide-ranging discussion, but it will not be surprising to learn that one of the first things we talked about was industrial action.
“So we have been very clear, we have talked constantly… about the impacts that the strike has had on patients, we have talked about the impact it has had on our own teams and colleagues, we have talked about the impact it has had on finances, but we have also called “All parties must work together to find a solution.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents trusts, told the conference that resolving the strikes was “absolutely critical”.
He added: “We really need to move on from that industrial action and I was really encouraged to hear Victoria’s approach in the film, which really focused on sitting at the table and negotiating, having a conversation and listening.”
“That seems very important and I think there is even more reason to be hopeful than there has been in recent weeks, when we know that talks have taken place.”