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Matt Hancock appointment: what does it mean for health and social care?

by Valeria Fiore
10 July 2018

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Matt Hancock MP has been named as health and social care secretary after his predecessor Jeremy Hunt was promoted to the role of foreign secretary.
Mr Hancock was previously digital, culture, media and sport secretary – a role he was assigned in January this year, having been a junior minister in the department since July 2016.
So, what will Mr Hancock bring to the NHS and social care? Management in Practice looks at what this new appointment could mean for the NHS and social care.
Staffing crisis
The recent announcement of a long term funding settlement for the NHS, which will see the NHS budget ‘grow on average 3.4% in real terms each year from 2019 to 2023/24’, will hopefully give the new health and social care secretary more to play with than his predecessor when it comes to addressing the NHS’s chronic understaffing.
Commenting on Mr Hancock’s promotion, NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said that he ‘has one overwhelming challenge – how to help the NHS and the social care system to become sustainable in the face of rising demand and a severe workforce crisis’.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Hunt said that addressing the lack of staff working in the NHS was the ‘biggest priority’ for the Government. Will the new health secretary make it a priority?
Years of austerity has left the NHS underfunded and having to cope with an unprecedented workforce shortage.
In England alone, there were over 34,000 nursing vacancies between April to September 2017, according to NHS England.
Social care is also experiencing a crisis, with the Local Government Association (LGA) estimating a £2bn funding gap by 2020 and workforce development charity Skills for Care pointing at ‘90,000 vacancies at any one time’ in the sector.
The ‘jewel in the crown’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We look forward to building a constructive relationship with the new secretary of state and will continue our push for the funding and GP recruitment commitments made by his predecessor to be delivered in full.’
Mr Hunt, who had originally promised 5,000 more GPs by 2020, recently admitted that he was away from meeting that target.
GP and Tower Hamlets CCG chair Dr Sam Everington told Healthcare Leader that although it is difficult to say what Matt Hancock’s priorities will be at this stage, he believes workforce still remains the most important issue to address in primary care.
He said: ‘It would be great to see a review of undergraduate training and support for the idea that we are discussing five years training based in primary care, straight after graduation, as an option for newly qualified doctors.
‘Support for complete modernisation of IT infrastructure would also be a great help.’
Mr Hancock’s renowned passion for technology – he even setup an app which allows his fans to check pictures, videos and updates on his activities.
Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter that ‘the new NHS app will be in safe hands’ given his successors’ ‘brilliant understanding of the power of technology’.
Speaking at the Cyber Innovation Centre  in London on 26 June, Mr Hancock said that Britain is ‘already an authority in AI’.
He said that ‘as AI and data becomes more sophisticated and more accurate, there are huge opportunities to make the impossible possible and save lives’.
He added that the Government will open ‘NHS data sets, properly safeguarded, to train the intelligence, both artificial and medical’ on how to fight disease.
This reflects Prime Minister Theresa May plans’ to use data and AI to cut cancer deaths by 22,000 a year by 2033 – using artificial intelligence for diagnosis.
Privatisation fears 
Before entering politics, Mr Hancock’s helped with the family business and later worked as an economist at the Bank of England and as chief of staff to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
For this reason, some fear that he will look at the NHS more as a business.
Richard Miller, practice manager at the Great Bentley Surgery in Colchester said:  ‘He’s relatively unknown to the NHS. His experience in office has been flitting about from one department to the other and before he held office, his experience seems to have been in economics and business.
‘Quite how this will help him get to grips with the massive problem that is the NHS, I really don’t know. Could he treat the NHS as a profit making business and push for more exposure to the private sector? That is very worrying.’