Jeremy Hunt has urged healthcare managers to maintain quality care despite financial constraints or risk “disastrous consequences”.
Speaking to delegates at the NHS Confederation Conference in Manchester today, the secretary of state for health said managers are asking if they should focus on access targets, quality care or their deficits.
He said: “This is precisely the wrong question. It is the job of health service managers to deliver high quality safe care, that people don’t have to wait too long for that is within the budgets we have.”
“Anytime a manager has been asked to focus on one of these areas at the expense of the others – the consequences have been absolutely disastrous.”
Without good patient access, Hunt warned, the NHS will once again see more patients die of cardiac arrest on waiting lists.
Furthermore, he said: “It was because we didn’t focus on quality and safety that we ended up with Mid Staffs and problems like Mid staffs all over the NHS.”
He added: “Good care and good finances are two sides of the same coin.”
However, Hunt told delegates to balance their books “the smart way”.
“The most expensive thing you can do is deliver poor care,” he said.
Hunt showed figures that suggest hospitals with an “inadequate” CQC rating have a deficit level five times that of the “outstanding” hospitals.
The health minister also urged hospitals to get the best prices possible for their health care products.
In one instance, there was a 96% variation between the best and worst price for medical disinfectant.
Beyond hospitals, Hunt also highlighted practice management where sickness and absence rates vary by 116%.
Eliminating cost variation could save the NHS £1 billion a year, said Hunt.
Jeremy Hunt also weighed in on the EU referendum debate, supporting the chair of the NHS Confederation Stephen Dorrell’s calls during the conference opening yesterday.
Hunt said: “Any suggestion that the NHS would see a dividend upon leaving the European union is utterly bogus.
“Even if the entire net contribution to the EU, £120 million a week, was given to the NHS you’d only need to see a contraction in GDP of 0.6% and those benefits would be totally wiped out.”
He added: “Every independent forecaster says it will impact the economy and many say there will be a recession and many believe it will be much bigger than 0.6%.”
The NHS he said will not see “so much a Brexit dividend as a Brexit hangover”.
“A strong NHS really does need a strong economy,” said Hunt.