Thérèse Coffey becomes England’s third health and social care secretary within two months, promising to bring an ‘ABCD’ focus to her new job by solving the problems of ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists.
She replaces Steve Barclay who was in post for just three months after succeeding previous incumbent Sajid Javid.
Coffey has been Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions for the past three years, and previously was Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between July and September 2019 and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from July 2016 to July 2019.
Ms Coffey served as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons from May 2015 until July 2016 and served on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee until she was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Fallon, Minister for Business and Energy.
In an opening address to staff at the Department of Health and Social Care, Ms Coffey said that the government would “make sure that we are delivering for patients” and that her top priority was “how we can make best use of our departments and of course the NHS in order to achieve the best outcomes
Asked whether she is ready for strikes, she said: “I think we’ve got to be ready for patients and that’s my top priority, and how we can make best use of our department and of course the NHS in order to achieve the best outcomes for them”.
And asked what her message is to potentially demoralised NHS staff, Ms Coffey she recognised “they’ve done excellent work” and repeated her priorities.
Responding to the appointment, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“We congratulate Rt Hon Therese Coffey on her appointment as the new Secretary of State for health and social care. Having gone through four health secretaries over the last five years, health leaders will hope this will signal a period of stability in this office and a razor sharp focus on the challenges facing the NHS.
“Our new Prime Minister has set out the NHS as one of her top three priorities and so, alongside the coupling of the health secretary post with the deputy prime minister position, all eyes will be on whether we have a Government that finally delivers for the NHS and the communities it serves.
“This is crucial because our 23rd health secretary has inherited an NHS and social care system in a worst state than in living memory.
“GP appointments, cancer treatments, and diagnostic tests are all above pre-pandemic levels, and patients who had waited the longest for an elective procedure have now received one. However, demand for frontline care is through the roof, waiting time standards are deteriorating despite the heroic efforts of its staff, and winter seems set to be the busiest on record.
“These concerns are made significantly more worrying by the cost-of-living crisis and so, like the rest of the country we are eager to understand the detail of the Government’s promised intervention this week.
“Immediate support is needed for the NHS but with over 130,000 vacancies and a real-terms funding cut that could stretch to £9.4bn this year, there is no quick or easy way out of these deep-rooted problems.
“Health leaders need a Government that is ready to listen and ready to act for the long term. We will not have an NHS that is fit for the future without investment in capital, in its workforce, and in our broken social care system. There is no time to delay.”