Foreword from Una O’Brien

One of the many good things about working at the Department of Health is the passion we feel for what we do. We care about people and their health. And we know that the work we do, supporting ministers, helping to lead, shape and support the health and care system, really matters.

Now that the primary legislation has been finalised, we have a firm platform on which to build real clarity about the future direction for the system as a whole and the leading role the Department will play in supporting the Secretary of State to deliver his five strategic objectives:

  • a patient-led NHS
  • delivering better health outcomes
  • a more autonomous and accountable NHS
  • improved public health
  • reforming long-term and social care.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 means significant change for how the health and social care system is run when the new and existing bodies take on key responsibilities in relation to the NHS. This brings into focus the changing role of the Department itself and the challenge of how we support the Secretary of State in his continuing accountability for the health and social care system. We now have to make ours an organisation that stands for health and wellbeing in the round – able to identify and articulate the overall health and care challenges facing the country and then to work with our partners and stakeholders to achieve better health outcomes for people.

This summary of the DH’s business priorities for 2012-13 is the result of a great deal of planning work within and across teams all over the Department. You will see that the plan groups activity into six priority areas. It is clear that the enduring purpose of the Department of ‘better health, better care, better value’, remains highly relevant to what we do and provides overall meaning for our work. This comes through in the many staff engagement events across the Department. That is why we have used this formulation – ‘better health,  better care, better value’ – to capture all of the important outward-facing business priorities for the Department for this year to April 2013. But three further areas for action need to be given priority as well if we are to succeed – Delivering the transition to the new system; Working better with our partners; and Transforming the DH itself. Therefore, you will see, in this plan, the actions we have committed to in each of these areas.

The sixth priority, Transforming the DH itself, is particularly close to my heart. I have always enjoyed working in the DH, but felt frustrated that we could not do more to focus strategically and practically on people’s health, on helping people to stay well and to live better for longer. In preparing for our new role from 2013 onwards, we have the chance of a generation to reform and re-focus the Department so that it can give as much emphasis to health as it does to the health and care system. The team that will lead the new DH is now in place, and we recognise that we have important work to do in the next 12 months to engage all staff in a vision for the new DH and in helping you to understand the practical changes needed to behaviours and working practices to reflect our changing role.

The energy and commitment of staff in the DH is inspiring and we have much to be proud of in what we do (and only a fraction is captured in the summary of achievements from 2011/12 at the end of this document). We all know that the external environment and the economic situation is going to remain very tough for some time to come and this will continue to be a test of who we are and what we can achieve. I believe that the plans set out here reflect the realism and creativity of all the teams across the DH and I look forward to working with you throughout this important year ahead.

Una O’Brien
Permanent Secretary

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