Ongoing strikes and record-high waiting lists are just two of the challenges facing the new Health Secretary Victoria Atkins.
The former financial secretary to the Treasury was appointed to her new role as part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet reshuffle, with predecessor Steve Barclay moving to become Environment Secretary.
The new Health Secretary is married to Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar, which also grows medicinal cannabis.
She has been MP for Louth and Horncastle since May 2015 and served as financial secretary to the Treasury for a little over a year prior to her appointment in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Her appointment as Health Secretary comes days after new figures showed 7.77 million people were waiting for NHS treatment in England, the highest number since records began in 2007.
But NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, said resolving strikes must be top of Ms Atkins’s agenda.
Chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said: “This change comes at a critical juncture for the sector, which faces unprecedented challenges.
“Top of the agenda is the resolution to ongoing industrial action. The cumulative impact of strikes on patients, staff and the NHS cannot be understated. Constructive dialogue between the Government and unions is key to finding a sustainable solution.”
Strikes have been ongoing in the NHS since December 2022 and are understood to have impacted more than one million appointments.
Last week it emerged that hospitals would be allowed to cut back on pre-planned care to help cover the cost of previous walk outs, which is thought to be around £1 billion.
The Government is in talks with consultants and specialist, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors, the British Medical Association (BMA) said earlier in November.
It confirmed both groups would be reballoted on industrial action and, if passed, it would give them a mandate to strike until June 2024.
NHS Providers also called for more investment in “deteriorating NHS facilities and equipment” that was “vital for the sustainability and modernisation of health services”.
There were also issues with the NHS estate, with the DHSC confirming there were 42 hospital sites with confirmed reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac), which is at risk of collapse.
Sir Julian added: “Whole government action to tackle health inequalities and reforming social care are also priorities, as both are essential for the well-being of patients and efficiency of services.
“We look forward to working with the new Secretary of State to address the most pressing issues confronting hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services – ensuring a resilient, efficient NHS offering world-class patient care.”
Chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee Steve Brine thanked Mr Barclay for his time in office and welcomed the new appointment.
He added: “(Ms Atkins’s) appointment comes at a critical time for the NHS with the number of patients waiting for treatment at a record high.
“Preventing ill health will be key to helping the NHS manage its resources. Prevention is one of this committee’s priorities and I hope it will be high up on the new Secretary of State’s agenda too.”