Sajid Javid has been criticised for likening the NHS to a defunct video rental chain, calling it a “Blockbuster healthcare system in the age of Netflix”.
The health secretary said changes were needed in the use of technology and data to help workers care for patients and that it was “no longer simply an option to stick with the status quo”.
But one senior doctor said the comments show Mr Javid is “out of touch” and NHS leaders warned they need more support to turn tech ambitions into reality.
David Nicholls, from the Doctors’ Association UK told The Independent: “Blockbuster famously went bust, for Mr Javid to fail to even acknowledge the workforce and staff retention issues shows out of touch he is with the crisis the NHS and social care system faces through his lack of investment over the last decade.
“Does he actually care or is he more concerned about soundbites than patient care?”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “I think it’s slightly absurd that 12 years into a government we have ministers who talk in the biggest generalities without plans to deliver anything.”
A spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said Mr Javid made the comments at Tuesday morning’s cabinet meeting.
“The health and social care secretary updated cabinet on the scale of the challenge post-pandemic, saying we had the Blockbuster healthcare system in the age of Netflix. He said it was no longer simply an option to stick to the status quo,” the spokesperson said. “He said the government had set the NHS a target of dramatically improving productivity to save £4.5 billion a year.”
Asked if Mr Javid saw the NHS as a business disaster that could go bust, the spokesperson replied: “I think he’s saying that it needs further changes in order to make it sustainable for the long term.
“It’s very much the view that the government wants to support the NHS to become fit for the future. Some of that work the NHS has already undertaken. You’ve seen that with the diagnostic centres, with the surgical hubs, which have been great successes. But clearly there is more work to do to ensure the NHS is there for us in years to come.”
The spokesperson said there would be no further announcement of investment in the NHS beyond what has previously been set out.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts said: “Trusts accelerated technological innovations and digital ways of working during the pandemic. We’ve seen a sea change in how services are being delivered, enabling new ways of working and freeing up clinicians so that they can spend more time with their patients.
“But trusts will need much more support to turn the secretary of state’s high tech ambitions into reality. They need more staff with the right skills, and more support from the centre, in areas such as coordinating commercial expertise.”