At the start of the month, Members of Parliament were welcomed back from the summer recess with David Cameron’s first major reshuffle. The Department of Health saw a huge change in personnel with Jeremy Hunt promoted to Health Secretary, replacing Andrew Lansley who now sits as Leader of the Commons.
After almost losing his job as Culture Secretary over allegations of improper contacts with News International, Hunt’s promotion to Health Secretary is a sign of recognition from the PM. However, taking over will not be easy. Hunt told the media his new job would be a “huge task,” adding: “I’m extremely honoured. It’s the biggest privilege of my life.”
Another major change to the department was Norman Lamb replacing his Liberal Democrat colleague Paul Burstow as Care Services Minister. The replacement of Mr Burstow shocked many in the sector as his perceived expertise and competence made him well suited for the role.
Moira Fraser, Director of Policy at the Carers Trust said:
“Paul Burstow has made a significant contribution to the social care issues during his time as Care Services Minister, and Carers Trust would like to thank him for his commitment to carers over the last two years.”
Whilst he was Minister, Burstow introduced important new proposals to strengthen carers’ rights and pledges.
Following the re-shuffle, Burstow reflecting on his time in office, said:
“In the last two years or so I have been able to introduce policies that will improve the mental health of adults and children, the care of older people and the diagnosis of dementia.
I am confident my successor will now take on the challenge to ensure these reforms improve the lives of people in receipt of care up and down the country.”
Although filling the shoes of Burstow will be no easy task, Lamb does come with a good grasp of the broader agenda, having been his party’s heath spokesman before the general election.
In addition, Dr Dan Poulter and Ann Soubry have been appointed as the new junior ministers and Earl Howe being the only survivor from the ministerial team, remains as health minister for quality.
Other major news for the department was the resignation of Dame Jo Williams, the head of the Care Quality Commission – following Cynthia Bower’s resignation as chief executive earlier this year. The watchdog, set up in 2009 by merging three previous bodies, has faced criticism for its performance and has rarely been out of the line of fire since the Winterbourne View scandal broke last year.
Williams said the organisation was entering a fresh phase and she had decided it was time for someone else to take control. She has offered to remain in post until a successor is appointed. She has been CQC chair for almost three years and a board member for almost four. The Department of Health said she was “tireless and dedicated” to her role.
Towards the end of the month, the Department of Health launched a new programme called Developing Care Markets for Quality and Choice (DCMQC), to help provide more choice and higher quality of care and support services across the country. The programme has launched to improve choice, provide tailored care and focus care on the outcomes that matter to people.
The Department of Health says that “more change is needed” and have described the programme as “part of the wider effort on reforming social care to deliver high quality local services and to give people the choice and services that they should expect.”
Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb said:
“People deserve a high quality care service that meets their needs. Everyone’s needs are different. We can’t have a one-size fits all approach. This new programme will increase choice in the care services provided to them.
“We want to improve the care services already in place by giving local authorities the skills to work together with their care providers and anticipate future priorities, pressures and challenges in order to tailor care for their communities.”
All in all, it has been an eventful month. The department took centre stage during the reshuffle causing major readjustments and has a new ministerial team. Although Andrew Lansley’s departure has been welcomed in some quarters, there is some anxiety about the new Health Secretary’s lack of experience. The passage of the Health and Social Care Act was certainly a milestone, but it was far from the end of the Government’s challenges in implementing their proposed reforms. Jeremy Hunt and his team are about to find out just how challenging the health portfolio can get.