Sajid Javid’s previous Government roles – that of chancellor and before the home secretary – were great offices of state, traditionally thought of as more prestigious than his new job as Health Secretary.
But since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the profile of the person tasked with keeping the nation healthy has been shot to the top of the agenda.
Matt Hancock was a regular face at press briefings and in the Commons, giving updates to the nation on the coronavirus.
But it is not only the pandemic Mr Javid will have to deal with, his in-tray will be full of challenges for the health and social care sector, some of which predate Covid-19 and others caused by it.
The most immediate test for Mr Javid will be continuing the country’s progress in lifting lockdown measures and vaccinating the rest of the population.
Even Mr Hancock’s fiercest critics had been complimentary about the rollout of the Covid vaccine, and Boris Johnson praised Mr Hancock for the creation of the United Kingdom Health Security Agency, which he said “built the foundation to ensure the UK is better prepared for any future pandemic”.
But opposition parties and health leaders have warned of a “perfect storm” to hit the NHS this winter, as a backlog of cases reached more than five million.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association’s chair of council, said: “Sajid Javid has a huge and urgent task ahead.
“He must ensure completing the roll-out of the adult vaccination programme at rapid pace to control spiralling infection rates. He must also put forward a credible plan to tackle a backlog of care of unprecedented scale whilst at the same time rebuilding the trust of doctors and the wider healthcare workforce.”
The health and care workforce will not only need looking after following a punishing year, but will need bolstering too.
A survey released by NHS Providers – which represents NHS trusts – earlier this week showed almost half (48%) of leaders said they have seen evidence of staff leaving their organisation due to early retirement, Covid-19 burnout or other effects from working in the pandemic.
While six former health and social care ministers have backed proposals to reform the social care workforce in the absence of long-awaited Government plans.
Mr Javid will face questions over the plan, which the PM said was ready on the steps of Downing Street after the election in December 2019.
Meanwhile, those still in the sector will continue to push for a pay rise amid continuing anger over the Government recommending a 1% increase.
NHS staff were due a pay rise in April, but ministers said they would await the recommendations of the pay review body, which is expected to deliver its report within days.
Pat Cullen, acting general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Sajid Javid must hit the ground running.
“With the unrelenting pressure on the nursing workforce, their role in protecting the nation during the pandemic and role delivering the vaccination programme, we expect to meet with urgency.
“Javid’s immediate priority must be tackling the shortage of nursing staff and paying them fairly for their highly-skilled and safety-critical work.”
Mr Hancock had also been poised to launch the new Health and Social Care Bill in coming days, expected to be the biggest shake-up in health legislation since the Andrew Lansley reforms, and which would hand more power to the Secretary of State.
In his reply to Mr Hancock’s resignation, Mr Johnson recognised this, saying it “will support our NHS and deliver greater integration between health and social care”.
How Mr Javid takes the legislation forward could indicate how he will tackle his new role.
And he will also be faced with a decision over who will replace Sir Simon Stevens, who steps down as NHS England chief executive at the end of July.
Tory peer Dido Harding, who was executive chair of the Government’s coronavirus Test and Trace programme until April this year, has put her hat in the ring as a potential replacement for Sir Simon Stevens, who steps down as NHS England chief executive at the end of July.
And while NHS England’s board chooses Sir Simon’s replacement, the Government – via the health secretary – has a right of veto.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said Mr Javid’s “immediate challenge” was to steer the NHS through the Covid-19 pandemic while supporting the health sector to “clear the substantial backlog of care”.
“More than five million patients are now waiting for treatment, demand for mental health and emergency services is rising fast and we face a potentially difficult winter on the horizon. These are significant tasks. This is all alongside making plans to live with Covid-19 over the longer-term,” she said.
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