Sajid Javid's 'Huge and Urgent Task Ahead'

Tim Locke

June 28, 2021

Editor's note, 28 June 2021: This article was updated with new information from the Commons.

England's new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, says getting out of the pandemic will be his most immediate priority.

Sajid Javid/PA Media

The former Chancellor and Home Secretary was appointed on Saturday evening after Matt Hancock's resignation. Mr Hancock was caught on camera embracing an aide in his office in breach of COVID-19 guidelines. Questions remain over why there was a camera in a minister's office, and his role in appointing Gina Coladangelo to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Sajid Javid's In-tray

Mr Javid updated the Commons on plans to lift England's COVID-19 restrictions next month.

"I spent my first day as Health Secretary, just yesterday, looking at the data and testing it to the limit," he said. 

"Whilst we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July, because in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for COVID."

He said: "Our aim is that around two-thirds of all adults in this country will have had both doses by 19 July."

His appointment came amid rising Delta variant cases, pressure on the NHS, staffing problems, and a record waiting list. 

Image credit: PA Media

Health groups are also campaigning for a better pay rise than the 1% on offer, and changes to doctors' pension rules.

Mr Javid told the Commons there would be "a fair pay settlement".

In a statement issued on Sunday, Mr Javid said: "I'm incredibly honoured to take up the post of Health and Social Care Secretary, particularly during such an important moment in our recovery from COVID-19. This position comes with a huge responsibility and I will do everything I can to deliver for the people of this great country.

"Thanks to the fantastic efforts of our NHS and social care staff who work tirelessly every day, and our phenomenal vaccination programme, we have made enormous progress in the battle against this dreadful disease. I want our country to get out of this pandemic and that will be my most immediate priority."

'Huge and Urgent Task Ahead'

Health groups issued statements setting out priorities for Mr Javid.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA 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.

"Frontline doctors and other staff have gone above and beyond time and time again over the course of the last 18 months, with many suffering from burnout and mental ill health as a result. The new Secretary of State must show he understands this challenge and must also be willing to listen to the voice of the frontline on the Government's plans for sweeping changes in the running of the NHS in the upcoming Health and Care Bill.

"It is imperative that doctors are able to take leave, rest and regroup before tackling the biggest waiting list the NHS has ever seen. And we would urge Mr Javid to think again about the Government's 1% pay proposal which, on top of punitive pension changes, risks driving a generation of senior, experienced doctors into early retirement.

"Sajid Javid must now show that the Government understands the value of frontline healthcare workers and their critical role in the future of our NHS. We look forward to meeting Mr Javid as soon as possible."

Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: "His immediate challenge is to steer the NHS as it navigates this latest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic while providing the health sector with the support it needs 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.

"Workforce pressures will also be top of the in-tray for the new secretary of state. We have asked so much of our staff during the past year and they need rest and reward to tackle burnout, boost morale and prepare for the challenges ahead. Not only must the Secretary of State look at the pay deal being offered to those on the frontline, but we would urge him to negotiate a fully funded workforce plan to tackle the significantly high levels of vacancies within the service and ensure a sustainable pipeline of staff.

"The Secretary of State's appointment also comes during a very important year for the NHS. There is important legislation waiting in the wings, heralding the biggest reforms to the health service in over a decade. Sajid Javid will also need to ensure the needs of the NHS are represented ahead of the upcoming comprehensive spending review where major decisions about public spending will be made. This includes future funding of the NHS, long-term investment in capital for heath and care, and critically, a decision on the future of social care."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "With COVID-19 cases on the rise again; more than five million people waiting for elective treatment; primary, ambulance, community and mental health care services seeing increased and more complex demand, and staff on the verge of burnout, we will need a Secretary of State who can adeptly lead and support the NHS's recovery."

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."

Article image credit: PA Media

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