New Health Secretary promises to ‘build a brighter future’ for the NHS

  • 14th November 2023

Former criminal barrister, Victoria Atkins, has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care following Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle.

The 47-year-old replaces Steve Barclay in the role, having previously worked as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

She was also Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice and Minister for Afghan Resettlement between September 2021 and 6 July 2022.

And she led the Ministry of Justice’s work on prison operations and policy, youth justice, tackling violence against women and girls, and rape and serious sexual offences.

Prior to this, from 2017-2021, she was the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability at the Home Office.

She was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Louth & Horncastle in May 2015 following a career as a criminal barrister specialising in prosecuting serious organised crime.

A personal approach

In her first speech as Health Secretary, addressing the NHS Providers conference just two days after her appointment, she said: “It’s a genuine pleasure and a privilege to be your Health and Social Care Secretary.

“My belief in our National Health Service, and its founding principles, is one of the reasons I came into politics.

“Now, I know you might hear this a lot, but, for me, it is truly personal.

“Like families up and down the country, I owe our NHS a lot. It has cared for me and my family, and brought my wonderful son into the world.

“And I want to make sure that it’s here in fighting fit form for our children and our grandchildren, just as it’s been here for us.”

But she admitted there was ‘a lot of work to do’ to bed in the new Integrated Care Systems, address winter pressures, and boost staffing numbers, as well as overcome the COVID-19 backlog.

She said: “This will be a shared endeavour and it will require all of us to work in partnership, across our acute hospitals, mental health, community, general practice, and pharmacy.”

Describing herself as an ‘optimist’, she added: “Together, we can overcome the challenges and take the long-term decisions that will build a brighter future for our NHS.

“We’ve got clear recovery plans in place, financial certainty for the rest of the year, and the first-ever, fully-funded, reform-focused, long-term workforce plan. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with the job. Now is the time to deliver for patients, and deliver for our NHS.”

Responding to her appointment, president of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Sarah Clarke, said retaining and recruiting staff should be a key priority, adding: “There is no doubt of the severity of the challenges that are facing the health and care service.

Investing in staff

“In England, waiting lists are at a record 7.8 million – with an estimated one million people on more than one waiting list for treatment.

“As we have consistently said, retaining the hardworking staff we have now is necessary to bringing down waiting lists and ensuring the health service is able to meet demand now, and in the future.

“Acting on retention must be the top priority, including continuing talks and finding a resolution to industrial action.

“Getting the basics right, including embracing flexible working, improving IT equipment, and ensuring staff have time for research and teaching will all make a difference to improve retention of staff.”

She also called for action in health inequalities, stating: “Ultimately, the best way to improve health is to focus on the factors that shape it – health and social care services can only try and cure illnesses created by the environments people live in.

“The Government must maintain its commitment to publishing the Major Conditions Strategy and use it as an opportunity to set out bold action to address the wider determinants of health.”

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