I’m very glad to have the chance to talk to you today. Because we are at a perilous moment in the course of this pandemic.
I am very worried about the growth in the number of cases, especially in the North West and North East of England, and parts of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and parts of Yorkshire.
You have all had the most extraordinary 9 months, and in my view you have risen to the challenge.
But in parts of the country, the situation is again becoming very serious.
Hospitalisations in the North West are doubling approximately every fortnight.
And have risen by 57% in just the just last week alone.
Unfortunately, we are seeing hospitalisations of the over 60s rising sharply, and the number of deaths from coronavirus also rising.
And we know from bitter experience that the more coronavirus spreads, the harder it is to do all the other vital work of the NHS.
Yesterday, we heard from the Academy of Royal Colleges.
Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “If we don’t act fast we risk the NHS being overwhelmed and risk all the good work done to restore services.”
And then this morning, we heard from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
When Katherine Henderson said: “If we do not come together and take effective precautions, COVID will continue its explosion across the country, the consequences of which could be the implosion of the NHS this winter.”
The message to the public must be that we all have a part to play, to control this virus.
Our strategy is simple: suppress the virus, supporting the economy, education and the NHS, until a vaccine can make us safe.
My message to you, and to everyone who works in the NHS, is that we can, and we will, get through this.
Sadly, there will be more difficult times ahead.
But we will get through it together.
And one of the good things that has happened this year, and there have been some good things, is that the whole public, has shown just how much it appreciates the NHS.
There’s only one organisation that can inspire people to applaud from their doorsteps and balconies, come rain or shine.
That can inspire colourful support in windows across the land.
There’s only one organisation that can inspire a heroic centenarian to walk laps of his garden and inspire millions of people to sponsor him.
The NHS. The best gift a nation ever gave itself.
And this year, when all nations faced peril and adversity, the NHS was there for us, as it always is, and always must be.
The spontaneous outpouring of admiration that we have seen from all corners of this country, I think that is testament to how much people cherish this amazing institution.
We all pulled together to protect the NHS.
But crucially, it’s the NHS that protects us all.
Not just the doctors and nurses, and I want to say this very directly, but the cleaners, porters, mental health teams, ambulances, and all the diverse and varied parts of this incredible system.
During the greatest public health crisis in a generation, you have been the linchpin of our national effort.
And we must work together for the population who we serve, through this pandemic and beyond.
Today I want to say a few words about how.
First of all, of course, the NHS is only as good as its people.
And if the last few months have shown us anything it is that the NHS is blessed with exceptional people.
And we are doing everything in our power to support them, and boost their number.
During the crisis, we put out a call for former health and care professionals to return to the front line – and 47,000 volunteered to play their part.
I think this is an incredible testament. To them, and to every single one of our 1.4 million strong team – and the over 2 million in social care – I want to say, on behalf of the nation, thank you. Thank you for your service.
Our returnees were supported by people from all walks of life who stepped up.
Furloughed cabin crew redeployed into call handling roles.
Clinically trained firefighters provided surge capacity for our ambulance services.
Volunteers delivered hot food to the vulnerable, and to NHS staff.
This was a phenomenal effort from so many, new recruits and established colleagues.
And we all learned just how flexibly we can work when needs must. This sort of flexibility helped the NHS really deliver, and it is something we should hold onto for the future.
And, of course, we are looking to expand the workforce for the long term, through our plans to recruit 50,000 more nurses, and more clinical staff.
This work is bearing fruit.
This year we have seen doctors numbers at their highest ever.
And over the last year, we’ve seen the number of nurses increase by over 14,000.
And we owe it to them, and all our NHS colleagues, to take forward some of the positive changes that we’ve seen during this pandemic.
From my point of view I’ve seen that the white heat of the crisis showed us a lot about our health service.
And for me, what was most illuminating was to see how some of the things that I know frustrate you all.
Like some of the bureaucracy and the hierarchy that too often gets in the way of caring for patients.
How a lot of this melted away.
Of course, it is important that we have the guide rails so we can measure performance and hold ourselves to the highest standards.
But in a health and social care system like ours, that has evolved over the course of over 70 years.
It is easy for layers of overlapping and disproportionate bureaucracy to build up over time.
I hear from providers what this can mean on the ground – multiple requests