New health secretary must fight NHS’ corner as pressures mount

06 September 2022

Welcoming the appointment of the Rt Hon Dr Thérèse Coffey MP as the new health and social care secretary and deputy prime minister, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said:

"Trust leaders will look to the new health and social care secretary to provide much-needed stability and leadership in the face of significant challenges, and to fight its corner as pressures mount on the service.

"They will hope that the link between the deputy prime minister and health and social care secretary roles is an indication of how seriously the new prime minister and her government are taking the multiple, pressing challenges facing mental health, community, acute and ambulance services.

"They include concerns over winter pressures, a soaring cost-of-living crisis, further waves of COVID-19, seasonal flu, and the very worrying possibility of industrial action by NHS staff over pay and conditions.

"Our frontline staff have done a sterling job reducing the longest waits for care and ramping up activity but with over 6.7 million people waiting for planned treatment and the numbers continuing to rise, these challenges could derail the NHS' efforts to bear down on care backlogs.

"Urgent and emergency care is under constant strain with long waits in extremely busy A&E departments and ambulance services severely stretched. These pressures have been compounded by delays in discharging  patients who are well enough to continue their recovery at or closer to home, with shortages of social care staff and funding shortfalls a key issue.

"The new prime minister stood on the steps of Downing Street today and pledged to put the NHS on a 'firm footing'. We hope that she, and the new health and social care secretary, will not duck these big issues and work with those on the frontline to deliver solutions.

"With an emergency budget expected to be just weeks away, the need for a fully funded workforce plan for health and care must be top of mind. With a staggering 132,000 NHS vacancies and many more across social care, these workforce gaps must be tackled as a matter of urgency. 

"The government's failure to fully fund this year's below inflation pay awards, alongside ongoing concerns over punitive pension taxation for senior staff, is making it even harder to recruit and keep the staff we so desperately need. This, in turn, directly impacts on patient care.

"We need to see action on the government's much vaunted New Hospitals Programme, which has been beset by delay. The NHS needs long overdue capital investment to benefit patients and ensure the quality and safety of care.

"And more support must be provided for an underfunded and overstretched social care system to help to ease mounting pressure across the whole health and care system."