Is New Health Secretary Matt Hancock in for a Rough Ride?

Peter Russell

July 10, 2018

He was the first MP in modern times to win a horse race but there could be few who would have placed Matt Hancock on a list of runners and riders for the post of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Matt Hancock

Appointed by Theresa May on July 9 as the Prime Minister plugged gaps in her cabinet during the fallout over the Government's Brexit strategy, Mr Hancock, 39, replaced Jeremy Hunt who was elevated to foreign secretary in place of Boris Johnson.

Matt Hancock has been MP for West Suffolk since being elected in the 2010 general election.

A Background in Economics

Brought up in Cheshire, Mr Hancock studied for a degree in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford and a master's degree in economics at Cambridge. He joined the Bank of England as an economist and later served as chief-of-staff to shadow chancellor George Osborne.

He entered government in September 2012 where he held a number of ministerial roles, including skills and business, and Paymaster General. Before taking on health he was secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

Mr Hancock inherited the health portfolio at a pivotal time for the NHS, which celebrated its 70th birthday earlier this month. His predecessor, who had the distinction of being the longest-serving in the history of the department at almost six years, oversaw a junior doctors' strike and widespread discontent over health service funding. Earlier this year he apologised to patients after tens of thousands of non-urgent procedures in England were postponed due to "real pressures" affecting the health service.

Among the most pressing items for Mr Hunt's successor will be overseeing a 10-year plan which the NHS in England has been charged with developing  to ensure that recently announced extra health service funding will be spent effectively. His background as an economist could prove invaluable.

As an advocate of the digital transformation of government services in his previous post, Mr Hancock will also oversee the launch of the new NHS app being launched this winter to 'revolutionise' the way patients access healthcare.

Earlier this year, he demonstrated his digital credentials when he launched his own smartphone app, offering users "a chance to find out what's going on" and "to tell me what you think ".

'The Challenges of the Health Service Remain'

Commenting on Mr Hancock's appointment, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), 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."

There will be plenty of challenges for the newcomer to the health and social care portfolio, but Mr Hancock has at least proved he is up for a challenge.

In 2005 he played the most northerly game of cricket on record but succumbed to frostbite in four fingers while en route to the Pole.

In 2012, after shedding two stone to train as a jockey, he rode Dick Doughtywylie to victory in the one-mile Blue Square Cavalry Charge charity race at Newmarket, later telling the BBC: "My attitude is just to throw myself into things." His attempt to emulate the success over a distance of three miles and six furlongs proved less rewarding when he was pipped to the post in the 2016 Newmarket Town Plate, a feat which nevertheless won him a box of sausages.

Matt Hancock is married to Martha and has three young children.

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