by GK Strategy 14th July, 2016

Hunt avoids shunt

Following the uproar of Boris Johnson’s appointment to the Foreign Office, one of today’s more surprising announcements sees the often maligned Jeremy Hunt retain his job as Secretary of State for Health. Media reports were to-ing and fro-ing all morning, first speculating a sacking, then a resignation, and even a possible Cabinet re-deployment. After some seemingly lengthy negotiations at Number 10, Hunt came out in the same job he walked in with.

Although there are rumours that outgoing Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers turned down the role at the Department of Health, Theresa May has decided to press ahead with more of the same. Already the longest-serving Health Secretary, and one of the most disliked by the healthcare profession, Hunt will now have to follow through not only on commitments to push the NHS back into surplus, but on his plans to “impose” the junior doctors contract this autumn.

The rumoured “reset” on NHS finances, previously expected to go ahead this week, may now be back on the cards – so expect an announcement on the cracking down on deficits once the dust settles on the new Government. With George Osborne out of the Treasury, there is now the potential for a looser fiscal policy, which could lead to more cash and more autonomy for the NHS.

Whilst some may argue keeping Hunt in his role is a sensible choice in terms of delivering stable leadership for the health system, a clear opportunity to win back the disillusioned NHS workforce may have been missed. Bets are on for how long he will last, as the NHS deficit continues to plague both the Department and the Treasury, and the stage is set for round two of Hunt vs Doctors.

Where there may be room for manoeuvre is in the drive for seven-day services. Whilst this has been championed by the Department, the architects behind this manifesto commitment were at Number 10. Senior government adviser on new models of primary care Sir Sam Everington has already predicted that the new government will drop this ambition in favour of prioritising keeping people out of hospital.

Key to the success of both the Department and Hunt will be the ministerial team surrounding him, due to be set out in the coming days. With Community and Social Care Minister Alistair Burt ruling himself out already, there is at least one seat going.

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