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Jeremy Cooper

Matt Hancock: what the new Secretary of State brings to the role

Matt Hancock

After the longest serving Health Secretary left for the Foreign Office, Matt Hancock has been promoted to one of the most important Cabinet jobs, directly affecting millions of people. He has a lot of quick catching up to do to navigate the complex systems of health and social care.

Fortunately, he has plenty of relevant experience to draw from. What follows is a quick look at the links between his Ministerial career to date and the new challenges he faces today.

  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills (2012 – Sept 2013): Mr Hancock worked on minimum wage policy. Arguably the biggest workforce issue facing the NHS is the challenge in recruiting home care staff, which is heavily impacted by the national and living wage agendas. This is pertinent because understanding the issues with Delayed Transfers of Care from hospitals involves analysing all of the barriers to achieving balance across a complex system.
  • Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise (Sept 2013 – May 2014): There are over 2.5 million people working in health and care. They have been schooled, recruited and trained into a system that is changing rapidly. The balance of skills needed for the future is markedly different from those that we have developed so far.
  • Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Minister of State for Energy, and Minister of State for Portsmouth (May 2014 – May 2015): Managing one of the quirkier and broader portfolios will be important experience for the complexity he will face across health and social care.
  • Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (May 2015 – Jul 2016): Mr Hancock’s time in the Cabinet Office will help him understand the scale of financial pressure that the nation’s health and social care are facing. The £20 billion ‘birthday present’ for the NHS is 1) unclearly funded, 2) insufficient, and 3) doesn’t address the equally pressing question of social care funding.
  • Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries and then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (July 2016 – Jul 2018): The opportunities for harnessing technology to transform health and care are clear. However, despite significant investment, its impact so far has not lived up to its promise. Understanding the behavioural barriers to using technology, rather than just throwing money at it or getting carried away with the latest developments, will be key.

I heartily welcome Mr Hancock to this challenging and very rewarding role. Sustainable health and care requires fresh thinking. Joining the dots between actors and managing the interfaces between them – across government and beyond – is critical.  And he must never lose sight of the people his Department serves. I hope that he will be able to use his varied experience to reframe the ambition of the sector.


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