The post-election shuffle of roles is over, and Jeremy Hunt has retained his position as health secretary. But he does have a new team around him – including a new pharmacy minster – to help achieve his aims. So what is he likely to do over his next parliamentary term?
1. Seven-day GP access
A “seven-day NHS” was a flagship policy for the Conservatives prior to the election. And Mr Hunt will no doubt push to make this premise a reality over the next five years, having been vocal in his support for the concept in the past.
The policy does extend to hospitals, which are expected to provide the same quality of care at weekends as they do during the week. But arguably, the main focus – and the one that will most affect pharmacy – is GPs. Surgeries will now be expected to open their doors at weekends, which the Conservatives hope will help prevent a repeat of this winter’s A&E crisis.
Mr Hunt knows he has his work cut out for him. He admitted GPs were already one of the "most demoralised" groups in the health service in his first speech as newly reinstated health secretary at the King's Fund on May 20. Many GPs are highly critical of the plans and, at a time when there is a shortage of doctors, ask the pertinent question: where will the extra manpower come from?
The answer is yet to be revealed and Mr Hunt admitted it would be "a challenge", but the Conservatives did pledge they would ensure there were “enough” NHS staff to meet patient needs in their manifesto.
2. Paperless NHS
One of Mr Hunt’s first pledges as health secretary in his first term was to make the NHS “paperless” by 2018. Two years on, the health service may not appear a shining beacon of modern technology, but it has gone some way towards achieving Mr Hunt’s aims. His ambition to enable all patients to request repeat prescriptions and see their records online shows signs of becoming a reality, and the electronic prescription service (EPS) has gained traction during this time.
In his next term, Mr Hunt is likely to put pressure on the surgeries who have not adopted EPS – 45 per cent of the total number on May 18 – to take action. The 3 per cent of pharmacies that have not yet adopted the system are also unlikely to be able to resist much longer.
3. Pharmacist access to patient records
Opening up access to summary care records has been another priority of Mr Hunt’s – and he has thrown his weight behind pharmacy access on more than one occasion. In fact, he told C+D in October that more than 40 deaths could have been prevented last year if pharmacists were able to read patient records.
Following positive results from pilot access, Mr Hunt is likely to support a wider roll-out to pharmacies across the UK. But don’t expect speedy progress: read-only access is unlikely to happen before 2016, and gaining read-write access could drag on until 2019.
4. Patient feedback
In his response to the Mid-Staffordshire scandal, Mr Hunt stressed the importance of listening to and acting on patient feedback. This is clearly a priority for the Conservatives, which set an aim of increasing the proportion of people rating their experiences of the health service as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ in their manifesto. In Mr Hunt's speech to the King's Fund, he said he wanted to see "more discussions about the quality of care" in the NHS, and said it would be a "great scandal" if the health service relented in its drive to learn from the Mid-Staffordshire fallout.
As a result, Mr Hunt is likely to continue emphasising the importance of patient feedback in his next term, and pharmacies won’t be exempt. In fact, the General Pharmaceutical Council is already considering how best to capture and consider patient feedback as part of assessing risk in pharmacies.
5. Obesity and diabetes
Mr Hunt cited obesity and diabetes as new priorities during his King's Fund speech. There should be a national strategy to tackle the increasingly prevalent conditions, he said. Mr Hunt referred to childhood obesity as a particularly pressing issue, and said it was a "great scandal" that one in five children were obese by the end of primary school.
These priorities could make it easier for pharmacies to secure funding to provide weight management and diabetes services.
6. The Five Year Forward View
The clue is in the name: Mr Hunt will have five years to deliver the objectives outlined in the Five Year Forward View. The strategy document to improve use of NHS resources doesn't make many references to pharmacy, but does suggest pharmacists could form large-scale primary care practices with GPs.
Given the financial challenges facing the NHS, Mr Hunt is particularly keen for the plan to "eliminate waste and improve productivity".
See C+D's interactive guide to the new government health line-up