This week’s Tory conference, which featured a speech from Health Secretary Therese Coffey, was not awash with policy announcements, but did reveal interesting indications about the Government’s health strategy.
For example, the conference gave new Health Minster Robert Jenrick the opportunity to offer his first substantive comments in post. He was candid about the workforce issues within the NHS and acknowledged that the NHS could be facing its worst winter yet. Regarding the former, Mr Jenrick claimed that workforce crisis is as much about retention as it is about recruitment.
He also poured cold water over the idea of cutting the NHS capital budget, deeming it a deeply short-termist move. Instead, these funds would be crucial in revolutionising the NHS in the long-term, noting that many NHS trusts do not yet have electronic records.
The event also allowed some dissenting voices to express their concerns about the UK’s health trajectory. Tory MPs Damian Green and Mark Simmonds, both on social care APPGs, called for a proper social care workforce plan to be developed, while the new Chair of the APPG on Cancer Elliot Colburn MP questioned the Government’s wisdom for seemingly dropping the health disparities white paper. It should be noted that a DEFRA official later stated it has been paused, not dropped.
The Health Secretary Therese Coffey did not commit to any new substantial policy moves in her speech, instead reiterating her ‘Plan for Patients’ and focus on the ‘ABCDs’ – ambulances, backlogs, care, and doctors and dentists – of healthcare. To the despair of the aforementioned MPs, a workforce strategy was notably absent from her speech.
In a similar vein, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng offered a defence of his pro-business, pro-productivity Growth Plan, amid broad concern both in Cabinet and the wider party regarding the plans.
There was also helpful news concerning ministers’ portfolios at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Nus Ghani MP has been made Minister for Science and Investment Security – which includes science and research, Horizon Europe membership, innovation strategy and AI – and will therefore be a key stakeholder for BIVDA in the coming years. Jackie Doyle-Price MP has been handed the Industry brief at BEIS, while Dean Russell MP is now Minister for Enterprise and Markets.