Can the NHS be user-friendly?14th October 2007
The Health Secretary's speech to the Labour conference
on 25 September, which promised to make the NHS more user-friendly, is the subject of the Independent's leading article.
Alan Johnson made two main points concerning the future of the health service. His first point confirmed that the days of organisational change within the NHS are over. The second conveyed the message that offering patients a "user-friendly" service was extremely important. He said the NHS would be "clinically led, locally driven and constantly focused on a personalised service for the patient".
This is encouraging, as it confirms the government have been paying attention to people complaining about the standards within the health service. These complaints include difficulties making GP appointments, super-bugs and postcode lotteries.
The Health Secretary's comments are correct insofar as they prioritise user-friendliness. However they are just wishful thinking while those working within the NHS have the need to please the "target-setters rather than inconvenient patients".
Tony Blair said ten years ago that mixed wards should be abolished but they still exist. Mr Johnson did not refer to them in his speech. His assertion that super-bugs would be targeted by compulsory "deep-cleaning" at every hospital is worthless unless all staff keep their hands clean and follow sanitary procedures.
Standards within the health service are much lower than those in most parts of Europe. The IT system which was meant to offer improved patient choice has been subject to many problems. Ministers have too often used "headline-grabbing initiatives" to suggest that things are being done, rather than improving basic standards.
The Health Secretary put forward "a bit of both" during his speech. His assertion about providing a "user-friendly" service is the one that should triumph.
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