Matt Hancock: What do we know about the new health secretary?

Prime minister Theresa May has appointed Matt Hancock as the new health and social care secretary following a series of high-profile resignations that prompted her to move Jeremy Hunt to the Foreign Office. But what do we know about the new secretary of state?

New health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (Photo: Chris McAndrew)
New health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (Photo: Chris McAndrew)

Mr Hancock was appointed secretary of state for digital, culture media and sport in January this year, having previously served as a junior minister in the department for 18 months.

He is the MP for West Suffolk and was first elected to parliament in the 2010 general election. Before joining the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport he was paymaster general and held ministerial posts in the Cabinet Office, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Department for Business, Innovations and Skills and the Department of Education.

Before entering politics he worked as an economist at the Bank of England and as chief of staff to George Osbourne when he was shadow chancellor.

Mr Hancock hit the headlines earlier this year by becoming the first MP to launch his own smartphone app. The app allowed users to sign up as friends and chat with other users and featured pictures and videos of the MP, along with updates on his activities.

New foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt seemed to think Mr Hancock's experience would come in handy in his new role at the DHSC.

Mr Hancock said on Twitter that he was looking forward to joining the DHSC. 'I can't wait to get started,' he added.

In one of his previous roles as minister of state of energy, Mr Hancock was criticised for hiring a private jet to fly back from a climate conference.

Mr Hancock's voting record

According to the website They Work for You, Mr Hancock voted in favour of removing restrictions on the amount of income a foundation trust can earn from private patients.

He has also almost always voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits, consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability and generally voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices.

The challenges ahead

Mr Hancock inherits the DHSC at a crucial time for the NHS. Last month, prime minister Theresa May announced that the NHS would receive a £20bn real-terms funding boost by 2023. While the cash injection is clearly welcome, there are questions over where the funding will come from and doubt over whether it is enough to address the challenges the health service is facing.

The department is now also responsible for social care and many experts believe it will be crucial to secure a long-term settlement and proper plan for the sector if the NHS is to survive.

Mr Hancock appears to have little experience of the NHS, so he faces a steep learning curve as he takes up his post. Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth tweeted about some of the challenges the new health and social care secretary will find in his inbox.

The BMA welcomed Mr Hancock's appointment and said it looked forward to working constructively with him. However BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'While there is a new secretary of state, the challenges the health service faces remain the same. Patients are facing longer waits for care, so-called "winter pressures" in the NHS are now hitting the service all year round, and it lacks doctors, nurses, and beds.

'This appointment comes at a crucial time for the health service and doctors want to see the new secretary of state put the NHS on a sustainable footing for the future, address the serious funding shortfall and ensure we can recruit and retain the right number of doctors, with the right support and infrastructure, to deliver high quality care for patients.'

In terms of general practice, Mr Hancock also inherits a recruitment crisis that is showing no signs of abating - Mr Hunt himself admitted that the government was struggling to meet its target of recruiting 5,000 more GPs by 2020. He will also have to drive through plans for a state-backed indemnity scheme for GPs that is due to be introduced in April next year.

And there is the small matter of this year's pay deal for GPs. The DDRB's recommendations are currently with ministers, so this could well be one of the first big decisions Mr Hancock has to make in his new position.

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