Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has named Victoria Atkins, former financial secretary to the Treasury, as the new health secretary, replacing Steve Barclay following today’s cabinet reshuffle (13 November).
Mr Barclay has moved to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as its secretary of state.
Ms Atkins – the seventh MP to take the role of health secretary in five years – has been the MP for Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire since 2015.
She was previously financial secretary to the Treasury, minister for prisons and probation, and minister for Afghan resettlement.
Prior to becoming an MP, Ms Atkins worked as a criminal barrister, specialising in prosecuting serious organised crime.
Responding to the announcement, Health and Social Care Committee chair Steve Brine warned of the ‘critical’ timing of her appointment.
He said: ‘Her appointment comes at a critical time for the NHS with the number of patients waiting for treatment at a record high. Preventing ill-health will be key to helping the NHS manage its resources. Prevention is one of this committee’s priorities and I hope it will be high up the on new Secretary of State’s agenda too.
‘I thank Steve Barclay for his work at the Department of Health and Social Care and wish him well in his new role.’
Meanwhile, chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor urged the Government to use the reshuffle to rethink recent funding decisions ahead of its Autumn Statement.
He said: ‘The Secretary of State takes office as system and Trust leaders are digesting, and working out how to respond to, last week’s deeply disappointing funding announcement which saw their pleas for more funding to cover the costs of industrial action and inflation answered by taking investment away from key areas that are likely to harm the NHS in the long term.
‘With its reshuffle, the government has an opportunity to revisit this decision in the imminent Autumn Statement, as well as more generally reset relationships with the health and care sector.’
Mr Taylor also thanked Mr Barclay for his work in the brief, citing him as ‘a divisive health and social care secretary’ but one who made progress ‘to resolve the dispute with most trade unions that had facilitated strike activity’ and for signs of progress in the talks with the BMA.