BREAKING NEWS: Victoria Atkins appointed new health and social care secretary

Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins
Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins

Former financial secretary to the Treasury Victoria Atkins has been appointed health and social care secretary in a major reshuffle of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet today.

Atkins, who replaces Steve Barclay who has been moved to environment secretary, had been with the Treasury since the prime minister took office in October 2022.

“I am honoured to have been asked to serve as secretary of state for health and social care at this critical time for the sector,” Atkins said.

“Our NHS matters to us all, and I look forward to working with NHS and social care colleagues to bolster services during what promises to be a very challenging winter, cut waiting lists and improve patient care.  

“I am also determined to drive forward discussions with striking unions in order to end the ongoing industrial action which has caused so much disruption to patients.” 

Previously, Atkins has served in government as minister of state at the Ministry of Justice where she led work on prison operations and policy, youth justice, tackling violence against women and girls, and rape and serious sexual offences.

From 2017 to 2021 she was the parliamentary under secretary of state for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability at the Home Office where she worked on domestic abuse, honour-based violence, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation.

Atkins was elected as the MP for Louth & Horncastle in May 2015 and worked previously as a criminal barrister specialising in prosecuting serious organised crime.

Sector reaction

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “Care England congratulates Victoria Atkins on her appointment as secretary of state for health and social care. The social care landscape is becoming increasingly challenging despite government efforts. Winter pressures are looming and a general election is imminent, compounding upon a backdrop of chronic underfunding and workforce challenges. We remain hopeful that this appointment represents a new opportunity for the Government to renew its commitment to fixing social care.”

Nadra Ahmed, executive co-chairman of the National Care Association, stressed the importance for the new secretary of state will “use every opportunity to reach out to the sector and understand the importance and value of social care to those who access it when they need to”.

“We hope that our new secretary of state, who has experience in some elements of social care such as safeguarding, will use every opportunity to reach out to the sector and understand the importance and value of social care to those who access it when they need to.

“Additionally, we hope that her time in the Treasury will have prepared her for the funding challenges we face and how we can support her to secure a fairer funding settlement for social care. 

“I hope to be able to connect with her as soon as possible to support her in this critical role in government which has a direct impact on the citizens of our country.”

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN), said: “We look forward to working with Ms Atkins and her new team on behalf of the independent sector.

“We hope there will continue to be a clear focus on delivering the prime minister’s commitment to cut waiting lists, particularly through delivering on the actions and recommendations of the government’s Elective Recovery Taskforce.

“The independent sector stands ready to play the fullest possible role, supporting NHS patients, while continuing to provide vital, high-quality care to private patients too.

“We also look forward to continuing work with Ms Atkins and the department on how we can collectively keep driving up standards of quality and safety, building on the excellent progress we’ve seen across the sector in recent years.”

Hare acknowledged the work of Barclay and other outgoing ministers: “We have made good progress under Steve Barclay, and with Will Quince, in prioritising patient choice and acknowledging the role of the independent healthcare sector in enhancing overall healthcare outcomes. We commend their commitment to fostering collaboration and learning between the public and private sectors, which we are sure will continue.

“The recommendations from the Elective Recovery Taskforce, where IHPN worked alongside both Mr Barclay and Mr Quince, have provided a framework for how we can work to provide patients with choice, and maximise the impact of the capacity and capability within the independent sector.

“We have seen some progress against implementing the recommendations of the taskforce, which are making it easier for patients to choose where and how they receive care, and helping to reduce waiting times.

“We look forward to working with the new Secretary of State and new ministerial team to make further progress over what is likely to be a challenging winter for the health care sector.”

Benjamin Powick, policy and public affairs manager at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, expressed concern at a “lack of stability and consistency in the Department for Health and Social Care”, particularly as we move into winter with health services under extreme pressure.

Steve Sawyer, managing director at Access Health, Support and Care, urged the new health and social secretary to continue Steve Barclay’s work on bringing the benefits of technology to the sector, including the use of Virtual Wards to give people the ability to recover in their own homes.

Sawyer urged Atkins to bring representatives from social care onto Integrated Care Boards to deliver truly integrated care.

“From preventative care to delayed discharge from hospitals and dealing with delayed ambulance handovers outside A&E; uniting health and social care and allowing technology to deliver truly joined up care will deliver the biggest benefits,” Sawyer said.

Unison’s acting head of health Helga Pile said: “Waiting lists and delays to treatment show no signs of abating. Winter is just around the corner and that’s always a challenging time for an NHS that’s both under-funded and thousands of staff short.

“Steve Barclay couldn’t solve the many problems affecting services and patients. The new health secretary has certainly got her work cut out.

“Improving wages across the NHS is a must, so trusts no longer struggle to hold on to experienced staff or to fill vacant posts. That means delivering on the commitments already agreed with unions in this year’s pay deal. And getting talks on earnings and staffing in the secretary of state’s diary at the earliest opportunity.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge though is to start what all her predecessors have failed to do and fix the crisis in social care. Once that begins to be tackled, the pressures on the NHS and its staff will start to lift.”

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