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'The new health secretary will need slightly longer to make his mark'

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A new broom suddenly looks set to sweep through the corridors of the Department of Health and Social Care.

Jeremy Hunt has finally left the building for pastures new in the Foreign Office, taking up one of the four most senior roles in the cabinet.

His timing was almost perfect, with a funding increase for the NHS in the bag, a pay rise for staff agreed, the NHS 70th birthday sorted and celebrated, and the record broken for the longest-serving health secretary.

This all equals legacy pretty much also in the bag if you skirt round the nasty bits like the junior doctors’ strike and his general unpopularity within the health service itself.

Judging by the reaction on Twitter to his departure, he won’t be particularly missed by the 1.5 million people employed by the NHS – something he admitted himself on the social media site.

“I know some staff haven’t found me the easiest health sec but the NHS, and particularly patient safety, has become my passion and it really was the greatest privilege of my life to serve for so many years,” tweeted Mr Hunt.

Though never particularly focused on nursing policy – he was not a regular at conferences for the profession – it is true that improving patient safety has been one of Mr Hunt’s priorities, and one that must be continued by his successor.

“Many were initially left asking who is Matt Hancock?” 

And what of the man who has replaced him? Many of were initially left asking who is Matt Hancock?

The short answer seems to be that the former culture secretary has held a lot of ministerial posts in government for short periods, has a background in finance, an interest in digital technology and was the first MP in modern times to win a horse race – strange but true.

It is also true that Mr Hancock will need to quickly get a grip on his high-profile new brief.

Although the sun may be shining now, some serious fixing of the NHS roof needs to be done before next winter, the delayed green paper on social care must be published and then there’s the ongoing workforce crisis – and that’s just for starters.

However, Mr Hancock’s arrival also represents an opportunity for the nursing profession. It can, and should, send him a clear message that the government needs to act without delay to ensure the extra NHS funding is used to help frontline staff achieve their aim of delivering better care.

“Mr Hancock must use his apparent nous with numbers to ensure funding reaches the patient”

As we know, it is all too easy for money to disappear in the health service, with its many demands and policy initiatives, but Mr Hancock must use his apparent nous with numbers to ensure funding reaches the patient.

I wish him well in his new role; it is imperative that he makes it a success. Nursing Times will be watching.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • I joined the NHS in 1976 and I have never known a popular Health Secretary. I know now that the position is a poisoned chalice because the NHS is unaffordable. Jeremy Hunt should be lauded for managing to hold down the job for 6 years - the longest serving Health Secretary since Aneurin Bevan and 3 times longer than 10 of his predecessors. Like all his predecessors Hunt left with nothing more than indifference or more likely a "good riddance" from those who work in the NHS

    If his successor lasts 2 years he will be doing well.

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