Hospital Dr News

Jeremy Hunt re-appointed Health Secretary in cabinet re-shuffle with extended brief

Jeremy Hunt has been re-appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in the Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle.

It is a role he has performed for five years and four months, but now with the addition of ‘social care’ in the title.

Some doctors’ representatives welcomed the re-appointment, saying that the NHS would benefit from continuity in leadership.

Apparently, Hunt argued to stay on in his job. It is not clear whether he requested the addition of social care to the role.

The government has promised a Green Paper on the future of social care in 2018, recognising that the sector is a parlous state.

After years of cuts to local authority budgets, in most areas of the country, only those with the highest care needs can now access state-funded social care.

Furthermore, delayed transfers of patients from the NHS to the social care sector are seen as a key reason why many hospitals are now dangerously near capacity all year round, not just this winter.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome this decision which should provide continuity at what is an extremely difficult time for both health and social care in England.

“We will have to see the detail of what is meant by the new title but we have consistently argued that health and social care are mutually dependent and that they need to be considered together at both national and local level. To that extent this looks like a good move.”

With £6bn having been cut from English councils’ adult social care budgets since 2010, there have growing attempts to integrate health and social care in England.

The two sectors are already combined in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The irony is that the Department of Health – over which Hunt has presided – already has responsibility for social care.

But social care is run by councils, partly paid for by council tax, and a central Whitehall grant which comes through the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is not clear whether that grant will now move across to the re-branded Department of Health and Social Care.

Former health minister Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem MP, questioned whether it was anything “more than window dressing”.

He said: “The Department of Health has always had policy responsibility for social care. If they are not doing anything about the funding of social care then nothing has changed in substance.”

It seems likely that Hunt will now play a central role in preparing the Green Paper, with a view to greater integration with healthcare.

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