Simon Stevens has plenty of opportunity in the NHS

“The end of an era”, said the Grand Theft Auto inspired front cover of Health Service Journal, as it came to Sir David Nicholson’s final full week in the job at the very top of the NHS.

Yet despite the fact this man has held the reins of the health service under numerous Prime Ministers and health secretaries, I don’t find myself thinking on his future, his achievements, or even his mistakes.

Instead, with the freshness of a new man at the top from April 1st, I am far more struck by the many opportunities that are left behind for Simon Stevens to embrace and develop as NHS England’s new chief.

Some might choose to lament on the huge challenges facing Stevens and the health service. They might choose to focus on the massive increasing demand, or that there are dwindling resources, sentiments which are currently voiced in nearly every speech made on the NHS.

In fact Sir David himself told the Guardian’s David Brindle in March the first thing on his departing note to Stevens would be that “there is no money because I have already allocated it”, just as Labour’s Liam Byrne once wrote to his successor: “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck!”

Of course, challenges do exist and the NHS must change to survive. But the health service has so many positive things happening in such a rich and dynamic environment, that Simon Stevens has a very real chance of leading an NHS that continues to be the best healthcare system in the world. If we take Sir David’s final week alone, there have been several important developments and opportunities for the health service.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced an aspiration to reduce avoidable harm to patients, cut costs and save 6,000 more lives.

News has emerged that the second round of the Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards Technology Fund is gearing up, which will provide NHS trusts with millions of pounds to acquire new systems that will help the NHS to integrate and deliver better care for patients across existing care boundaries. On the horizon, so much more is happening. Take big data for example. The phenomenon is sweeping across all verticals. But many, including some of the pioneers that Highland Marketing is working with, see the very real potential for the NHS in the shift to predictive healthcare.

And most importantly there are 1.7 million people employed by the NHS – a staggering resource and opportunity that can provide the ingenuity and advancement needed.

I could keep going and give you a huge list of the positive stories and ideas that are fuelling the beginnings of exciting change and of better care in the NHS.

Are the opportunities facing the NHS part of the Sir David’s legacy? Well, to be frank, who cares? The important thing is that these opportunities exist.

Sir David would have one other point to tell his successor in his departing note, he told Brindle during an interview at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in March. “You are never more powerful than the day you walk through the door,” he said. “[Stevens] will be in a uniquely powerful position to be able to advocate for the NHS, to set out direction for the NHS and to tackle issues that will come out of the election, in particular funding issues, in a way that I can’t do as someone who has been around for a long time.”

With so much change, Simon Stevens has a positive job to do as a fresh leader and the opportunities exist for him to make things happen.

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