Matt Hancock MP has been named health and social care secretary after his predecessor Jeremy Hunt was promoted to the role of foreign secretary.
Mr Hancock was previously digital, culture, media and sport secretary – a role he was assigned in January this year, having been a junior minister in the department since July 2016.
So, what will Mr Hancock bring to the NHS and social care? Healthcare Leader looks at what this new appointment could mean for the NHS and social care.
The recent announcement of a long term funding settlement for the NHS, which will see the NHS budget ‘grow on average 3.4% in real terms each year from 2019 to 2023/24’, will hopefully give the new health and social care secretary more to play with than his predecessor when it comes to addressing the NHS’s chronic understaffing.
Commenting on Mr Hancock’s promotion, NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said that he ‘has one overwhelming challenge – how to help the NHS and the social care system to become sustainable in the face of rising demand and a severe workforce crisis’.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Hunt said that addressing the lack of staff working in the NHS was the ‘biggest priority’ for the Government. Will the new health secretary make it a priority?
Years of austerity has left the NHS underfunded and having to cope with an unprecedented workforce shortage.
In England alone, there were over 34,000 nursing vacancies between April to September 2017, according to NHS England.
Social care is also experiencing a crisis, with the Local Government Association (LGA) estimating a £2bn funding gap by 2020 and workforce development charity Skills for Care pointing at ‘90,000 vacancies at any one time’ in the sector.
The ‘jewel in the crown’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We look forward to building a constructive relationship with the new secretary of state and will continue our push for the funding and GP recruitment commitments made by his predecessor to be delivered in full.’
Mr Hunt, who had originally promised 5,000 more GPs by 2020, recently admitted that he was away from meeting that target.
GP and Tower Hamlets CCG chair Dr Sam Everington told Healthcare Leader that although it is difficult to say what Matt Hancock’s priorities will be at this stage, he believes workforce still remains the most important issue to address in primary care.
He said: ‘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.’
Mr Hancock’s well established interest in technology – earlier this year he even created a personal app, the first MP to do so, that allows those who download it to follow his activities, including view photos, videos and other updates.
Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter that ‘the new NHS app will be in safe hands’ given his successors’ ‘brilliant understanding of the power of technology’.
Speaking at the Cyber Innovation Centre in London on 26 June, Mr Hancock said that Britain is ‘already an authority in AI’.
He said that ‘as AI and data becomes more sophisticated and more accurate, there are huge opportunities to make the impossible possible and save lives’.
Mr Hancock added that the Government will open ‘NHS data sets, properly safeguarded, to train the intelligence, both artificial and medical’ on how to fight disease.
This reflects Prime Minister Theresa May plans’ to use data and AI to cut cancer deaths by 22,000 a year by 2033 – using artificial intelligence for diagnosis.
The publication of the social care green paper has been delayed to late autumn, which means Mr Hancock will get a chance to shape the future of social care.
The Department of Health and Social Care said they ‘don’t expect there will be delays to the green paper at this stage’ following Mr Hancock’s appointment of.
However, the LGA said they will be publishing their own green paper on adult social care this month, to trigger discussions on how to fund adult social care services.