This site is intended for UK healthcare professionals
Medscape UK Univadis Logo
Medscape UK Univadis Logo

Health Bodies Appeal to New Chancellor to Rescue the NHS

Doctors' leaders said they hoped the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as the new Chancellor of the Exchequer would increase the likelihood that the Treasury would become more sympathetic to NHS funding and tackling staffing shortages.

Mr Hunt accepted the post during a tumultuous day at Westminster in which Prime Minister Liz Truss sacked Kwasi Kwarteng following a disastrous stint at the Treasury, in which he devised a tax cutting financial package that threw financial markets and the economy into chaos.

Mr Hunt was the longest serving Health Secretary, seeing out almost 6 years in the job under David Cameron and Theresa May. Since leaving ministerial office after a year in charge of the Foreign Office he proved to be a tenacious critic of the Government's handling of health as chair of the influential Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

Twice a former Conservative leadership contender, Mr Hunt is seen as one of the 'big beasts' of the party and, announcing his appointment as Chancellor, the Prime Minister described him as "one of the most experienced and widely respected Government ministers and parliamentarians".

Hunt's Appointment Comes at a 'Perilous Time' for the NHS

Following news of his return to the Cabinet, the British Medical Association (BMA)  said it expected action on what he himself had called the "greatest workforce crisis in the history of the NHS" and that he would prioritise health service funding at a "perilous time" for the NHS. Prof Philip Banfield, BMA chair of council said: "He must put forward a credible plan for long term investment in the NHS to stop it descending any further into crisis."

NHS Providers said trust leaders would welcome the appointment of a figure who was "no stranger to the need to take urgent action to tackle the challenges facing the NHS and public services right now". Its Interim Chief Executive, Saffron Cordery, said it came at a time when the NHS budget was "taking hits in every direction", including energy costs, inflation, and pay. She said: "Last week's warnings from national NHS leaders that investment in key services such as cancer, mental health, and primary care may have to be completely revisited because of these serious budgetary pressures will surely give the new Chancellor pause for thought, as will the ongoing cost of living crisis, and staggering levels of staff vacancies."

Calling for "a step change in capital investment", NHS Providers said it wanted to see clarity on the delayed programme for new hospitals and investment in social care, whilst Prof Banfield from the BMA said Mr Hunt's priority should be "to rapidly remedy the pension taxation trap" to bolster retention of experienced clinicians.

It is too early to say how much leeway Mr Hunt will have to please the optimists. He takes over at the Treasury during a period of severe economic turbulence which has seen the cost of Government debt soar, sterling and shares dive, and the Bank of England forced to make costly interventions to protect pension funds.

The ensuing chaos has also undermined the credibility of Liz Trust, Prime Minister for just 38 days, fuelling speculation that her own party might oust her.

The optimists might also recall that as Health and Social Care Secretary, Jeremy Hunt succeeded in securing extra funding for the NHS from the department he will now run, but also faced criticism over controversial reforms, increasing privatisation, and a controversial junior doctors' contract in England.

Mr Hunt's elevation back to Government leaves a spare seat at the Health and Social Care Committee, which must also choose a new chair.

Lead Image Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images