We learnt last week that Steve Barclay MP had been appointed as the new Health and Social Care Secretary, having held the post between July and September in Boris Johnson’s final Cabinet. Despite being in post for a short time previously, Mr Barclay oversaw many policies emanating from DHSC.
Most notable was the acceptance of the recommendations from the independent NHS pay review bodies, which meant that one million NHS staff – including nurses, paramedics and midwives – will get a pay rise of at least £1,400, with the lowest earners set to receive up to 9.3% of their basic pay. This is pertinent given the widespread balloting for industrial action across the NHS.
In September, he also announced the Government’s support for urgent and emergency care, outlining a £150 million funding increase in order to help trusts to combat ambulance pressures and increase the number of call handlers. Given his limited time in post however, it is difficult to assess his understanding of the scale of the NHS’s problems and whether he has any innovative solutions.
We can perhaps glean some understanding from his past statements on health policy when in other Government roles or as a backbench MP. Regarding his position on health policy-making, Mr Barclay has focused a lot on health funding in the past. In a 2014 article for Conservative Home, Barclay raised concerns about health funding allocations, noting specifically the unequal distribution between health innovation, primary care, and the then CCGs. In the same article, reference was made to the ‘danger’ of outsourcing decisions to unelected bodies, such as NHS England.
During his time at the Treasury, Mr Barclay branded the NHS as “bottomless pit, resistant to change and unaccountable”. In the 2022 process of passing the Health and Care Bill, Mr Barclay voted against a late-stage amendment that sought a report to be made every two years on assessing and meeting the workforce needs of the health from the Secretary of State.
Mr Barclay has regularly voted in favour of private sector involvement in the NHS, including support for representatives of private healthcare providers sitting on NHS decision-making and on ICS boards.
His return may be a source of frustration for senior NHS leaders who have briefed against him – labelling Mr Barclay as “a real nightmare, vindictive, arrogant, a bully, hostile to the NHS and all its works”, and “a micro-manager of all the wrong things”. For the sake of our sector, we hope that this assessment is wrong.
We now have clarification of Health Minister portfolios, which can be read below:
Will Quince MP has been appointed Minister for Health and Secondary Care, remaining with DHSC. Despite losing the cancer brief, Quince’s responsibilities have expanded compared with his previous role within Truss’s Government. Of note, he is now responsible for NHS secondary care, implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan, medicines and medicines regulation, life sciences and research.
Helen Whately MP has been appointed as Minister for Social Care, following her previous roles as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (2021-2022) and Minister for Care and Mental Health (2020-2021). She is responsible for adult social care, integration as well as major diseases (including cancer, diabetes and stroke), previously managed by Will Quince MP. Her new brief also covers rare diseases, screening and dementia.
Neil O’Brien MP has been appointed Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, also remaining with DHSC. He was previously Minister for Levelling Up (2021-2022). In his role, he maintains responsibility for public health (including vaccines) and primary care, including primary care backlogs and workforce. Other notable responsibilities include the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and antimicrobial resistance.
Maria Caulfield MP has been appointed Minister for Mental Health and Women’s Health Strategy, having previously held the position of Minister for Health. In this role, she is responsible for women’s health, maternity services, patient safety and experience, as well as mental health, including the Mental Health Act.
Nick Markham CBE has been confirmed as Minister for the Lords. In this role he remains in charge of the new hospital programme and the larger NHS capital, as well as data and technology and assumes sponsorship of NHS England.
Although not a minister, Steve Brine MP has been elected as the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee following Jeremy Hunt MP’s elevation to Government. BIVDA looks forward to welcoming him to his new role.