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ss triple helix - Winter 2012,  All change at the Department of Health

All change at the Department of Health

Mixed reactions

Review by Helen Barratt - Clinical Research Fellow in Public Health in London

In September, Andrew Lansley was replaced as Secretary of State for Health by Jeremy Hunt, the former culture secretary, as part of an extensive government reshuffle. Three of the department's other ministers have also been replaced. The reshuffle saw Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow replaced by Norman Lamb; junior minister Anne Milton by Anna Soubry; and minister Simon Burns replaced by Dr Dan Poulter. Only Lord Howe stayed in post. (1)

Lansley was the architect of controversial reforms to the NHS in England, having been health secretary since the coalition government was formed in 2010. Prior to that he was shadow health secretary for seven years. Hunt will oversee the changes to the health service resulting from the Health and Social Care Act. Many of these come into force in April 2013, including the abolition of NHS primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. (2)

Observers have said the Prime Minister believed Hunt would be better placed than Lansley to present NHS policy to the public in the run-up to the 2015 general election. However, Hunt's appointment prompted mixed reactions from commentators. Some described it as'disastrous,' whilst others perceived it as a fresh opportunity for discussions about the challenges facing the NHS. Hunt's most prominent previous involvement in the health service was leading a high-profile campaign five years ago to stop the closure of services at Royal Surrey County Hospital. This has sparked concern that he will try to delay planned NHS service changes in his new role. (3)

Increasingly many commentators regard the reform of social care as a priority. The government is being urged to adopt the recommendations of the commission chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot in 2011. (4) Norman Lamb, the new Minister of State for Care Services has a strong interest in this subject having been the Liberal Democrat party's health spokesman before the 2010 election. The cost of the Dilnot proposals is estimated to be around £1.7 billion. However, in an interview with The Spectator, Hunt suggested that he would be seeking' other versions that might not be quite so expensive.' (5)

Hunt caused controversy ahead of the Conservative Party conference in October. The Times reported him as saying that he would favour a change in the law to halve the legal limit on abortions from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 12. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said she would 'probably' back a change to 20 weeks, and the Prime Minister David Cameron is known similarly to favour a'modest' reduction. A Downing Street spokesman insisted that Hunt was expressing purely personal views and there were no plans to change the law. (6)

  1. West D. Jeremy Hunt replaces Andrew Lansley as health secretary. Health Service Journal 2012; 4 September
  2. Roberts M. Mixed reception of Hunt as new health secretary; BBC News 2012; 4 September
  3. West D. Concern about service change delay as Hunt replaces Lansley. Health Service Journal 2012; 4 September
  4. Barratt H. Social care funding. Triple Helix 2012; Spring: 5
  5. Jeremy Hunt: no promises on the NHS ringfence. The Spectator Coffee House Blog 2012; 3 October (Accessed 10 October 2012)
  6. Abortion limit reduction favoured by Jeremy Hunt; BBC News 2012; 6 October
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