The first few weeks in a new job can be pretty daunting. And this will certainly be no easy transition for Jeremy Hunt and his new team of health ministers.
Three out of four of the new Department of Health team – including the man at the top, Mr Hunt himself – have limited experience or knowledge of healthcare. From his membership of the health select committee, Dan Poulter is the one best versed in all matters health, while Anna Soubry has worked as private secretary for former health minister Simon Burns.
Much of the talk after the cabinet reshuffle seemed to focus on transport because of the proposed third runway for Heathrow, but let’s hope that doesn’t distract the public from appreciating what a mammoth task awaits Hunt et al.
Arguably, there could not be a worse time to be given the keys to an office in the Department of Health.
The DH’s new quartet are charged with implementing Andrew Lansley’s NHS vision. And, let’s face it, that has been castigated by almost every nurse, doctor, journalist and member of the public since the day it was announced. With so many people saying the plans are unworkable, unproven and even dangerous, it’s going to be tough to face the questions and challenges that are bound to continue if you really don’t know the subject inside out.
I suspect Mr Hunt is going to feel like he is sitting an exam for which someone else has done all the revision.
That would be challenge enough if it was the only issue he and his new team were facing.
But Mr Hunt will also have to handle the national pay issue, and the unions will not give him an easy ride unless he acts in a way they consider to be fair.
He will also have only a short time in post before Robert Francis reveals his long-awaited report into Mid Staffs and, again, will face challenging questions on care standards.
I hope someone is telling him that their best advice is to listen. Listen to the health professionals who have spent years running their services, caring for and treating patients. Listen to those who know the commissioning and provision side of healthcare inside out. Listen to the unions and royal colleges that represent the thousands of health professionals in whose hands lies the success of any reformed service.
There are plenty of people who can offer excellent advice on how best to do things in the NHS – someone in government just needs to listen.
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