Rapid investment in the NHS and action to address nursing workforce issues must be a priority for the new secretary of state for health and social care Victoria Atkins, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said today.
The Lincolnshire MP has taken on the role of health secretary following a Cabinet reshuffle, Downing Street has confirmed, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appointing her to succeed Steve Barclay.
The Royal College of Nursing responded swiftly to the announcement, with a statement from chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger, who suggested that Ms Atkins’ first priority ‘must be to get the NHS the extra funding it needs in next week’s autumn statement.’
‘Victoria Atkins will need to raise the morale of the current workforce and make urgent moves to shore up patient safety. ‘There are over 40,000 nursing vacancies across the NHS in England and staff deal with staff shortages on every shift – one nurse caring for 10, 15 or more patients is a grave risk she must not accept.’
Professor Ranger added: ‘In the last year, the issues that nursing staff have campaigned on have not gone away. Intolerable pressures at work, real-terms pay cuts, and chronic staff shortages all remain.
‘We expect the new Health Secretary to engage nursing staff in her plans and deliver long-term investment for a sustainable future.’
Mr Barclay will stay in the Cabinet as environment, food and rural affairs secretary.
Ms Atkins has been the MP for Louth and Horncastle since 2015 and was previously financial secretary to the Treasury, minister for prisons and probation, and minister for Afghan resettlement.
Before becoming an MP, she worked as a criminal barrister specialised in prosecuting serious organised crime.
Earlier today, primary care minister Neil O’Brien resigned from his post, saying that he wants to focus on constituency work and time with his family.
It comes as other junior ministers, including minister for Health and Secondary Care Will Quince have also handed in their resignations.
Mr Barclay was health secretary for a short while under Boris Johnson, after Sajid Javid resigned. He was succeeded by Dr Coffey when Liz Truss took over as prime minister and reappointed to the post in October last year.
Ms Atkins’ appointment makes her the seventh MP appointed to the post since 2018.
Parliamentary health and social care committee chair Steve Brine said her appointment comes ‘at a critical time for the NHS’ with the number of patients waiting for treatment at a record high.
He said: ‘Preventing ill-health will be key to helping the NHS manage its resources. Prevention is one of this committee’s priorities and I hope it will be high up the on new Secretary of State’s agenda too.
‘I thank Steve Barclay for his work at the Department of Health and Social Care and wish him well in his new role.’
Following the announcement, Labour’s shadow health minister Wes Streeting said: ‘In just under two years that I’ve been shadow health and social care secretary I’ve shadowed four Tory secretaries of state and I’m now onto my fifth.
‘This isn’t government. It’s a clown show. Patients are paying the price. Only Labour can offer the change our country needs.’
This is based on a story initially published by our sister publication Pulse.