Julia Manning for the Daily Mail, 4th September 2012
The airwaves had gone quiet recently about Andrew Lansley. Whereas before many reckoned that he would be removed as Secretary of State for Health once the new NHS Act was through, increasingly people then wondered who else would want to take on this brief with the complex reorganisation underway, understood by very few outside of the Department of Health.
And of course everyone in politics knew that health was the only job Lansley wanted, and one for which he had waited for over six years. However, Lansley has today been replaced by Jeremy Hunt. The Prime Minister has been kind to Lansley, who is his old boss, and given him an overarching role – Leader of the House – which gives him the job of organising all Commons business, including health, as well as deputising for the Prime Minister when he or his deputy can’t be there.
It was probably the only thing that Lansley could take and that the PM could give which still allowed him a high profile, a seat at the Cabinet table and the opportunity to talk about health. Savvy.
Jeremy Hunt had always been the one people mentioned as a replacement for Lansley, but after the Sky semi-scandal the chattering stopped. In public. However, my take on the thinking behind his appointment is this: The PM now wants a safe pair of hands who will spend the next 3 years listening, building relationships, supporting clinicians in their new commissioning roles – who will stop (let’s hope) manager bashing, and be a general all-round TLC ambassador for the NHS. He will have the mid-Staffs report to deal with; he will need copious amounts of patience and diplomacy as the new structures emerge; and he will need to bring his commercial wit into play when it comes to sorting out a new payment scheme for medicines and building confidence in the independent sector.
The new health secretary has his work cut out just to deal with the situation as it is, although the rising demands and unsustainable costs mean that devising new income streams, reducing some provision, and supporting radical new ways of delivering care cannot be ignored. Other new ideas would probably be limited to social care and building public confidence post mid-Staffs. No small task, but more about consistency than concepts.
Interestingly, in his previous role, Hunt oversaw the support for installing super-fast broadband in England, and part of his thinking was to facilitate telehealth. With the increasing ability to skype your GP, have an appointment with a distant consultant though a video monitor, access online medical records, and see a high resolution CT scan on a laptop, this is a radical change that he should get behind. No pressure, but 1.5million NHS employees are now watching Hunt very carefully.