Victoria Atkins has been appointed as England’s new secretary of state for health and social care in a Cabinet reshuffle, Downing Street has confirmed.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appointed the Lincolnshire MP to succeed Steve Barclay in the reshuffle of his top team. Mr Barclay will stay in the Cabinet as environment, food and rural affairs secretary.
The new secretary of state for health and social care used her first speech in post to highlight the importance of primary and secondary care working together to help create ’strong and integrated’ care across England.
Speaking at the NHS Providers conference, Ms Atkins also said that delivering the Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan for winter would be her ‘number one priority’.
And she highlighted the government’s long-term workforce and other recovery plans.
Ms Atkins recognised there was ‘a lot of work to do’ to ensure the health service was ‘in fighting fit form for our children and our grandchildren’.
She added that building on government reforms to ‘create strong and integrated care systems across England’ would 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,’ the secretary of state for health and social care told the conference.
While stressing the coming winter ‘will be challenging’, she said: ‘I know that rising to such challenges is what you all do so well.’
‘You’ve overcome a once in a generation pandemic. You’ve tackled the longest waits for care it left behind. And you’re delivering reforms that will give patients more choice and control over their care,’ she added.
In addition, she noted that ‘clear recovery plans’, ‘financial certainty for the rest of the year’ and ‘the first-ever, fully funded, reform-focused, long-term workforce plan’ were in place.
Ms Atkins also committed to ‘getting around the table’ regarding NHS staff industrial action, saying: ‘I want to see a fair and reasonable resolution.’
Chair of the health and social care select committee Steve Brine MP welcomed Ms Atkins‘ appointment, which he said comes ‘at a critical time for the NHS with the number of patients waiting for treatment at a record high‘.
And he urged the new secretary of state for health and social care to prioritise prevention.
‘Preventing ill-health will be key to helping the NHS manage its resources. Prevention is one of this committee’s priorities and I hope it will be high up the on new secretary of state’s agenda too,’ he said.
Mr Brine also thanked Mr Barclay for his work at the Department of Health and Social Care, wishing him well in his new role.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) said Ms Atkins ‘now has an extremely important job and opportunities to address many critical issues for the benefit of patients and the health sector’.
But it noted that the turnover of health secretaries on a nearly annual basis was ‘unhelpful’, saying that the health service ‘deserves more stability’.
The PDA added that pharmacists ‘could be better utilised across all parts of the health sector’.
And it noted that pharmacist careers and working environments could be improved, for instance by being provided with time for professional development and ‘assured levels of staffing’.
Ms Atkins has been the MP for Louth and Horncastle since 2015 and was previously financial secretary to the Treasury, minister for women, minister for prisons and probation, and minister for Afghan resettlement. Ms Atkins will be the seventh health secretary since 2018.
She has previously said she was one of the first members of her family to go to university, reading law at Cambridge. Before becoming an MP, she worked as a criminal barrister specialised in prosecuting serious organised crime.
However, she has political ‘pedigree’, being the daughter of former Tory MP and MEP Sir Robert Atkins.
Image credit: Chris McAndrew.