Andrew Lansley’s departure from the Department of Health has come as something of a shock to many who felt confident that he would survive the cabinet reshuffle.
During his time in office, the former secretary of state has faced many challenges from those in opposition but most notably from members of the public and health professionals. The heckling by June Hautot and Dr Ron Singer would have left even the most robust politicians bruised and bloodied, but so supremely confident was he that he was doing the right thing that Lansley refused to enter into the debate and sailed out of those scenarios without a visible scratch.
Having worked in health for nearly ten years in opposition and in government, Lansley had rolled up his sleeves and met patients and staff the length and breadth of the country.
During his time in office, I attended many events that the former health secretary spoke at - our Nursing Times Awards in 2011, The Florence Nightingale Foundation Conference and the launch event of the Chief Clinical Information Officers campaign earlier this year. At every event he spoke at he was keen to show just how much he knew about the health service. He would mention hospitals he had visited, nurses he had spoken to and projects that he had seen first hand that were working.
It was the verbal equivalent of turning up to events wearing a T-shirt that said “I understand health”.
Yet despite that, it didn’t win him legions of fans among the ranks of the health service. When clinicians heard his master plan to transform the NHS and the way it is run the majority remained unconvinced.
Lansley’s challenges weren’t just that he was making the biggest changes to the NHS in its 60-year history, but that he often couldn’t engage clinicians to join him in the journey - or clearly explain his vision.
While no one can deny Lansley had knowledge, expertise and experience in health, those who criticised him felt he didn’t exploit those attributes to deepen his understanding. The “listening exercise” that was initiated at the Royal College of Nursing congress in 2011 seemed only to be going through the motions and offer a deaf ear to nurses’ concerns after all.
Mr Hunt’s appointment has been welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association because they see it as an opportunity to make a fresh start - diplomacy on their part, but also optimism that he will listen carefully.
But the response from the Government is very much that the reforms will continue as usual so there will not be fundamental change.
So, top of his priorities will likely be to rekindle the relationships with healthcare professionals who have felt disenfranchised from the reforms. He is clearly someone who the prime minister trusts with communicating the vision - as well as executing it.
Now we have to see whether he can accomplish that.
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