Health secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to roll back Tory part-privatisation of the NHS, and to partially restore the student nursing bursary, if he gets into No.10.
Putting the health service at the heart of his bid to become prime minister, Hancock revealed that he was drafting legislation to reverse some of the ‘Lansley reforms’ that forced the tendering of services to private firms.
And he said that he would offer new cash support for mature student nurses, and those specialising in mental health and community work, in a bid to fill staff shortages.
In an interview with HuffPost UK, Hancock said his record as a minister who “can get shit done” was a key reason for Tory MPs and party members to back his bid to succeed Theresa May.
The 40-year-old MP – the youngest contender in the Conservative race – welcomed Donald Trump’s U-turn on his suggestion that the NHS would be “on the table” in any post-Brexit UK-US trade deal.
But he went further and confirmed that the key parts of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act introduced by predecessor Andrew Lansley would now be repealed in law.
In the five years since the act was introduced, profit-driven firms have won more than £10bn in commissioning contracts in England, leading to a major expansion of groups like Virgin Care and Care UK.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has called for key regulations on contracts to be revoked and replaced by a “best value” test, but until now Hancock has only said he was prepared to “potentially” consider changing the law.
He told HuffPost: “As prime minister, the legislation to improve the way that the NHS works would be a priority for me. We are putting the bill together now, the proposals are very much borne of the NHS.
“The legislation includes removing some of the legal requirements to go to tender where that isn’t appropriate. With time, it’s been shown that it’s better done a different way. I believe very strongly in the NHS free at the point of use, according to need not ability to pay, that it should be well funded.
“The central thrust is to try to remove some of the admin burdens and the overbearing legal requirements that have come as a consequence of the last set of reforms.”
Under laws introduced by the Tory-LibDem coalition, NHS trusts have to put to private tender any contract worth more than £615,278, a move that proved a boon to several firms.
“I think I’ve proved in half a dozen ministerial portfolios latterly in health, that I can get shit done.”
Asked if he would make a priority of his premiership a review of the student bursary for students and midwives, Hancock said that he would.
“I haven’t answered that question [before]. I’ve been asked the question ‘looking at it ahead of the spending review, as health secretary’. As prime minister, I would seek to ensure that especially in the areas of shortage we have that sort of targeted support that’s needed.
“There’s a question of how you make sure the money we’ve got goes as far as possible. There’s an overall shortage of nursing. It isn’t as big as the headline vacancy figures suggest. But there are acute shortages, especially in some specific areas like mental health nurses, and community nursing.
“I want to make sure that the approach we take is to support and incentivise people into those areas where we’ve got shortages.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips echoed the criticism of those who have pointed out that since the bursary was cut, student nurses and midwives are effectively paying to work in the NHS - rather than being paid themselves.
Hancock insisted that since the bursary was axed the NHS had still filled its nursing places and but he said “I accept some of the impact it’s had” on mature students, particularly those with children to support.
“Quite a lot of people do a nursing degree and become nurses as mature students. They’ve maybe done another career and want to do something that’s really fulfilling, and often they bring quite a lot more, because they’ve seen life.
“Now people in those circumstances also often have greater responsibilities maybe childcare responsibilities. And I’ve seen a particular impact there.
“Whereas a student going into nursing aged 18 for them a nursing degree is much more similar to a degree in any other subject. Mental health nurses [and] community nursing are two areas of great shortage and then in terms of mature students.”
Hancock said was also relaxed about not having had a one-on-one meeting with President Trump during his State Visit.
The minister, who had tweeted on Tuesday that the NHS would never “on my watch” be part of a trade deal, said that there was now “no reason” to meet the president after his backtracking.
Asked about a Trump meeting, he said: “I haven’t sought one, I haven’t been granted one. It’s neither here nor there. As the President has confirmed this morning the NHS is not on the table for trade talks so there would be no reason to.”
Following Trump’s row-back, a No 10 spokeswoman added: “The Government position is that the NHS will never be privatised, and that won’t change as part of any trade deal.”
Hancock, who is one of 11 candidates in the Tory leadership race, said that his record as digital secretary and other ministerial posts, as well as health, showed he had the ability to run the country.
“I think I’ve proved in half a dozen ministerial portfolios latterly in health, that I can get shit done. I’m somebody who’s got loads of energy and optimism and can drive things through government,” he said.
“Making things happen is a really important part of leading a country. Because there’s a sense that we’re a bit stuck in a rut and certainly that politics is stuck in a rut.
“One of the best things about this contest I’ve found so far is I am liberated to say exactly what I think what I want for this country why i think i could do a good job of leading it, it’s a great feeling after six years in government under collective responsibility this a proper debate based on ideas. That’s what i’m trying to bring to it.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: “The Health Secretary claims he’s the man to get things done is laughable. He could bring forward this legislation to reverse privatisation of the NHS now. So far he hasn’t.
“He could block the privatisation of cancer scanning services in Oxford, but so far he has failed. He could restore the bursary immediately, he refuses. He’s promised us a social care green paper umpteen times, so far he’s ducked it.
“It’s time he abandoned these leadership games which are more about a cabinet promotion and focused on his day job for a change.
“Yet again, he appears to be stealing Labour’s policies. I will send him a copy of our manifesto so he can lift *all* of Labour’s policies.”
In the Commons, Ashworth raised concerns that any delay to the Government’s Spending Review could prevent extra funding being released for training places for new NHS recruits until 2021.
Asked by HuffPost about Nigel Lawson’s famous quote that the NHS is the closest thing the UK has to a religion, Hancock replied that the former Tory grandee “wasn’t sneering” when he said it.
“I love that quote. It is like a national religion. People have an emotional relationship with the NHS it isn’t just another policy. It both describes and also respects the emotional relationship with the NHS. There’s a reason because all of us, at some of our best times in our lives and some of our worse times in our lives, are with the NHS.
“Two years ago the NHS saved my sister’s life when she had a serious head injury and she was in a coma for several days. As health secretary I went back to Southmead Hospital where they saved her and put her on the path to recovery.
“She couldn’t remember anything about it and then we walked in and she saw the consultant opposite to welcome us. And she immediately recognised him, it brought back a memory and she just ran over and gave him a hug. And there were tears everywhere.
“I value that and it binds the country together as well, it’s one of the things that unites us. The fact that it’s the closest thing we have to a national religion its true. And it’s good.”