The newly appointed health secretary, Therese Coffey, has set out her plans for the sector, amid concerns over her track record on health matters.
Appointed yesterday (6 September) by the new Prime Minister Liz Truss, Dr Coffey will also assume the role of deputy prime minister.
In an interview with Sky News, she told reporters her priorities for the health brief could be surmised with the acronym ‘ABCD’, standing for ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists.
And it is expected that Dr Coffey will be tasked with ensuring people have access to GP appointments: one of Ms Truss’ ‘three early priorities’ as set out in her first speech as PM earlier in the evening.
She will also assume the role of deputy prime minister, and most recently served as work and pensions secretary since 2019 under former PM Boris Johnson.
Dr Coffey comes from a background in finance, previously working a finance manager for Mars and the BBC before becoming a politician.
Earlier this week, Healthcare Leader examined what NHS leaders want from the new Prime Minister and her Government.
Leaders concerned with Coffey’s record
However, Dr Coffey’s appointment has attracted some concerns, with one charity raising issues over her voting record on abortion.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has said that Dr Coffey’s record for having voted against extending access to abortion care was ‘deeply concerning’.
Dr Coffey also recently voted against making at-home abortion pills permanently available in England and Wales after they were introduced during the pandemic.
The service accused her of putting her own beliefs ‘above expert clinical guidance’. Dr Coffey has told the BBC that abortion access already available in England will continue while she is in post.
Coffey must back NHS
Dr Coffey has also been urged to back the NHS by addressing pay, pensions and a dwindling workforce.
The BMA has said the new secretary must appreciate that it would be ‘a huge mistake to disinvest in the health service when social care needs sustainable funding in its own right’.
Professor Philip Banfield, BMA council chair, said: ‘Dr Coffey takes office at a time of greater crisis in the NHS than any of her predecessors. Ahead of another perilous winter for our health service, she has a unique opportunity to change the trajectory of the NHS for the better.
‘Staff feel overwhelmed and consistently let down by governments who had it in their power to really help them – and our patients. Enough is enough. Things must be different this time, and the Government must now work with the medical profession and its trade union to effect concrete change for the future of the NHS and its patients.’
Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation chief executive, said: ‘Immediate support is needed for the NHS but with over 130,000 vacancies and a real-terms funding cut that could stretch to £9.4bn this year, there is no quick or easy way out of these deep-rooted problems.
‘Health leaders need a Government that is ready to listen and ready to act for the long term. We will not have an NHS that is fit for the future without investment in capital, in its workforce, and in our broken social care system. There is no time to delay.’
And some hope her joint role as deputy prime minister indicates the seriousness with which this Government will manage the NHS.
And Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said trust leaders will hope that ‘the link between the deputy prime minister and health and social care secretary roles is an indication of how seriously the new prime minister and her government are taking the multiple, pressing challenges facing mental health, community, acute and ambulance services’.