Opinion: From Health Secretary to Chair of the Health Select Committee

He once described the NHS as his “greatest political passion”. Jeremy Hunt MP, the UK’s longest serving Health Secretary (2012 – 2018) has been elected as the new Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee. Hunt has pledged to use his new role to hold the Government to account ensuring the social care crisis is addressed and the NHS is protected.

The role of a Select Committee is to scrutinise the Government on key policy areas, so does the former Secretary of State’s appointment pose a conflict of interest due to his old role? Many of the governmental policy issues that he will be scrutinising are those of his own creation. Does this really mean he is best placed to conduct a fair and impartial critique of government policy? Only time will tell, but Hunt has already been vocal in announcing that he will “provide a strong, independent voice that supports NHS staff and patients”. As yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffled demonstrated, a week is a long time in politics, and in the two years since he was Health Secretary, a lot has changed. Hunt has served as Foreign Secretary and became Boris Johnson’s main challenger in the Conservative leadership election. We now have a new government with its own health and social care priorities that he will be scrutinising.

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What are the main priorities facing Hunt in his new role? Across his social media channels, he has already stated mental health, patient safety and the social care crisis are on his list of priorities. Several senior figures in the health and social care sector have said his knowledge and experience will be invaluable to the Select Committee in scrutinising how the Government tackles these challenges.

Despite the change in Chancellor, a budget is around the corner, and with the Prime Minister making big spending commitments for the NHS during the 2019 General Election campaign, we can expect to see a focus on improving the technologies on offer throughout the NHS. These spending commitments were further outlined in the Queens Speech, which saw a spending commitment of £34 billion over the next five years, helping to bring the NHS into the new digital age. During his time as Health Secretary, Hunt strived to bring about a new technological era for the sector, his successor, Matt Hancock MP, has continued to champion technological advancements. Hunt’s knowledge will undoubtedly help the Select Committee to scrutinise the new challenges facing the health sector: outdated NHS IT systems susceptible to cyber-attacks; the development of artificial intelligence and new technologies and how these should be implemented and effectively regulated.

As a former Health Secretary, he certainly has a strong understanding of the Government’s full capabilities, but it will be left to see if he effectively critiques the Governments health and social care positions left over from his tenure. With a global health crisis developing, Jeremy Hunt will be busy from the off in his new position.

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Felicity Lowes heads our Health and Social Care team. Email her for any questions you may have: felicity@ellwoodatfield.com 

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