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Sector reacts: Leaders express mixed feelings about new health secretary

Sector reacts: Leaders express mixed feelings about new health secretary
By Léa Legraien Reporter
12 July 2018

Healthcare leaders have expressed mixed feelings after former culture secretary Matt Hancock was appointed health and social care secretary on Monday.

Although Mr Hancock’s appointment is welcome, the sector remains sceptical about his abilities to solve the ongoing NHS crisis.

Their comments come after the cabinet reshuffle that followed Boris Johnson’s decision to step down as foreign secretary, leaving the position to Jeremy Hunt.

‘Little health background’

BMA honorary vice president Dr Kailash Chand argued that Mr Hancock has ‘little health background, with no obvious links to the NHS’.

He told Healthcare Leader: ‘I hope he doesn’t follow the confrontational style of Mr Hunt and [former health secretary] Andrew Lansley.

‘He has a job to bring NHS back from brink, so I wish him luck.’

Mixed feelings

Society for Acute Medicine president Dr Nick Scriven said he has ‘mixed feelings’ about the appointment.

He explained: ‘On the one hand, we are saying goodbye to a health secretary who has been more interested in scoring political points than listening to the views of the frontline.

‘On the other, in what is a crunch year in determining if the NHS is able to cope with another winter crisis, we are unable to hold Mr Hunt to account.

‘The jury will be out on [Mr Hancock] to see if he is able to put his financial skills to good use and ensure adequate funding and appropriate use of resources for the NHS in the coming months and years.’

‘Pivotal time’

Nuffield Trust chief economist John Appleby told Healthcare Leader that Mr Hancock has arrived at a ‘pivotal time’, with the upcoming 10-year NHS plan and ‘significant decisions on funding to be negotiated with the Treasury’.

He added: ‘As an appointment from another department, we have little indication of how [he] will approach this new position.

‘Interestingly, five years ago as a backbencher he wrote a prescient article proposing major reform to social care, a cause we would hope he takes up again.’

Dr Chand agreed that he comes at a crucial time for the health service.

He added: ‘While there is a new secretary of state, the challenges the health service faces remain the same.

‘[The] so-called ‘winter pressures’ in the NHS are now hitting the service all year round and it lacks doctors, nurses and beds.’

Winning over staff

Former medical director at Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust Umesh Prabhu said: ‘I am glad [Mr Hancock] has been appointed. He has an interest in digitalisation, [which] is crucial for the NHS and social care to survive and reduce costs […].

‘But without winning over the NHS’s hard-working staff he isn’t going to transform the NHS.

‘The NHS has a culture of bullying, discrimination, racism and sexism and we must get rid of such culture.

‘It has insular management systems and a culture of focusing on targets and finance. This has to change. It needs a culture where we focus on patient safety, quality and staff happiness.

Echoing Mr Prabhu’s comments, Tower Hamlets CCG chair Dr Sam Everington told Healthcare Leader that workforce remains the ‘most important issue to address in primary care’.

He continued: ‘It would be great to see a review of undergraduate training and support for the idea that we are discussing five years training based in primary care, straight after graduation, as an option for newly qualified doctors.

‘Support for complete modernisation of IT infrastructure would also be a great help.’

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