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In a ten-minute speech delivered to the House of Lords, the Queen outlined the UK Government’s priorities for the year ahead, as she officially reopened Parliament.

The speech highlighted that measures to reform the social care system in England would be brought forward, legislation to empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology would be brought forward, and that patients will receive more tailored and preventative care, closer to home.

The Queen said that the government’s top priority this year is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the UK stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before.

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She continued: “To achieve this, my Government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.”

Below, AT Today has summarised the key takeaways from the Queen’s Speech 2021 that assistive technology professionals should be aware of.

NHS catch-up and recovery plan

Importantly, the speech addresses the major backlog of NHS patients waiting for care and treatment as a result of challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It outlines that 4.7 million people in England now waiting for care and over 380,000 waiting more than a year for treatment. These figures do not include those who have not come forward for care during the pandemic.

Consequently, one of the UK Government’s top priorities to address this backlog is to persuade these so-called “missing referrals” to visit their GPs for referrals to help identify undiagnosed conditions.

“We plan to transform Urgent and Emergency care to prevent inappropriate attendance at emergency departments, improve timely admission to hospitals for patients in emergency departments and reduce length of stay,” the speech adds.

On top of the £7 billion funding announced in March for health and social care services, the UK Government is providing a further £325 million cash injection for new investment in diagnostics equipment to improve clinical outcomes. It says this funding will help address elective backlogs and recover non-urgent services.

Health and Care Bill

The Queen announced a new Health and Care Bill in her speech.

“My Ministers will bring forward legislation to empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology,” she told the House of Lords. “Patients will receive more tailored and preventative care, closer to home.”

The main purpose of the Health and Care Bill is to lay the foundations for a more integrated, efficient and accountable health and care system – one which allows staff to get on with their jobs and provide the best possible treatment and care for their patients.

It further aims to give the NHS and local authorities the tools they need to level up health and care outcomes across the country, enabling healthier, longer and more independent lives.

According to the government, the new bill will make it easier for different parts of the health and care system to work together to provide joined-up services. It also aims to remove bureaucratic processes that do not add value, thus freeing up the NHS to focus on what really matters to patients.

Overall, this will enable the health and social care system to more effectively prevent illness, support the nation’s ageing population, tackle health inequalities, tailor support to the needs of local populations, and enhance patient safety and quality in the provision of healthcare services.

To realise these ambitions, integration across health and social care will be driven through the delivery of an Integrated Care System (ICS) in every part of the country, and ensuring NHS England is accountable to Government, Parliament and taxpayers while maintaining the NHS’s clinical and day-to-day operational independence.

Social care reform

Recognising the immense pressure that the adult social care has come under during the pandemic, the speech says that proposals on reforming the social care system in England will be brought forward in 2021.

However, no specific legislation changes or a bill to overhaul how the sector is funded were mentioned in the Queen’s Speech 2021.

It did note, though, that the new Health and Care Bill will include provisions to improve the oversight of how social care is commissioned and delivered, and facilitate greater integration between health and care services by placing ICSs on a statutory footing across the UK, putting more power and autonomy in the hands of local systems.

Procurement Bill

Moreover, the government will introduce a Procurement Bill to simplify how public services are procured in the UK.

This bill claims to make procurement quicker, simpler and better able to meet the country’s needs while remaining compliant with our international obligations. It also aims to make public procurement more accessible for new entrants such as small businesses and voluntary, charitable and social enterprises to compete for and win public contracts.

The main purposes of this bill are to:

  • Enshrine in law the principles of public procurement such as: value for money, public benefit, transparency, integrity, fair treatment of suppliers and non-discrimination
  • Overhaul complex and inflexible procurement procedures and replace them with three simple, modern procedures
  • Establish a single data platform for supplier registration that ensures suppliers only have to submit their data once to qualify for any public sector procurement

Vaccination programme

The speech says that the UK Government will protect the health of the nation by continuing with the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The Queen’s Speech 2021 outlines: “…The Government is starting to plan for a potential booster campaign later this year. We are working with vaccine suppliers to work out which vaccines could be effective as a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and to design new vaccines specifically targeted at variants of concern. Over the longer term, regular boosters are likely to become a regular part of managing COVID-19.”

The speech recognises the successes of the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, stating that as of 8 May 2021, over 35 million people in the UK had received their first COVID jab.

It adds that these jabs are vital in saving lives. Public Health England analysis from 4 April 2021 found that the COVID-19 vaccination programme had prevented 10,700 deaths in those aged 60 and above in England.

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