Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions says top priorities are 'A, B, C, D – ambulances, backlogs, care, and doctors and dentists'
Deputy Prime Minister and the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Thérèse Coffey MP arrives at the new Prime Ministers first Cabinet meeting today. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street
New Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has named Suffolk Coastal MP, Thérèse Coffey, as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Taking over the role from interim minister, Steve Barclay, who was appointed in early July following the resignation of Sajid Javid; Coffey, who will also serve as Deputy Prime Minister, was previously Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and has been an MP since 2010.
She was appointed to the new cabinet role as part of Truss’s reshuffle, announced yesterday.
Commenting on the news, she said her top priorities were: “A, B, C, D – ambulances, backlogs, care, and doctors and dentists.”
Asked whether she is ready for strikes, she added: “I think we’ve got to be ready for patients, and that’s my top priority; and how we can make best use of our department and, of course, the NHS in order to achieve the best outcomes for them.”
And she told demoralised NHS staff, she recognised ‘they’ve done excellent work’.
Politicians talk about learning the lessons from the pandemic and harnessing the potential of technology to improve healthcare, but we need a clear plan for how the NHS will be working with partners to scale up remote monitoring for disease risk factors and how people are going to be given the tools to manage and improve their health at home
More details of her policies are expected in the coming days, but health technology experts are hoping digital transformation will remain front and centre of any plans to reform the NHS.
Speaking to BBH, Carolina Wosiack, managing director of digital consultancy, CI&T, said: “The dangers of the NHS backlog are clear.
“Not only are patients suffering from longer-term pain and poorer health, but increased workloads mean doctors themselves are reporting the highest levels of professional burnout since records began.
“A key focus for the new minister must be cutting patient wait times, and this can only be achieved through a combination of technological, managerial, and administrative solutions.
“Artificial intelligence, for example, can be used as a first port of call to screen patient symptoms and direct them towards precise care for a faster, more-effective journey – while freeing up healthcare professionals to focus on other pressing tasks.
“New wearable technologies, like portable ECG and blood pressure monitors, also offer clinicians fresh opportunities to check patient progress remotely.
“And, to improve onsite waiting times, and treat patients who struggle to travel; UK healthcare providers should continue to communicate and diagnose patients over the phone or via video calls.
The pandemic knocked down the barriers between the public sector, private sector, and experts working in research. We need the same level of co-operation and focus going forward into the future
“More fundamental is the redevelopment of the NHS system, so it can better connect patients, nurses, doctors, and hospitals.
“A digital ecosystem, which includes self-service features, could allow patients to book appointments with ease, use instant messaging to access healthcare advice fast, and much, much more.
“These features would also remove unnecessary time-consuming admin, such as waiting for an appointment letter to arrive, to ensure both individual and nationwide care is prompt and effective.”
Hamish Grierson, chief executive and co founder of Thriva Health, a remote testing and diagnostics company, added: “Politicians talk about learning the lessons from the pandemic and harnessing the potential of technology to improve healthcare, but we need a clear plan for how the NHS will be working with partners to scale up remote monitoring for disease risk factors and how people are going to be given the tools to manage and improve their health at home through the NHS app.
“The Prime Minister and her new Health Secretary must hit the ground running immediately, and tackle the healthcare challenges that we face.
“The digital and preventative healthcare agenda must be a top priority from day one.
“The pandemic knocked down the barriers between the public sector, private sector, and experts working in research. We need the same level of co-operation and focus going forward into the future.”
A key focus for the new minister must be cutting patient wait times, and this can only be achieved through a combination of technological, managerial, and administrative solutions
And digital transformation expert, Iain O’Neil, managing partner for healthcare at TPXimpact, said: “Thérèse takes on one of the most-demanding roles in government as the NHS recovers from the pandemic with record waiting lists, staffing challenges and, of course, all in the midst of an energy crisis.
“We urge her to embrace technology and the efficiencies that this can bring to the NHS.
“Recent commitments, such as the previous Minister’s plan for digital health and social care, are positive steps in the right direction, but the use of new technology cannot be successful in isolation.
“We’ve already seen positive developments in the future of healthcare through increased use of electronic patient records, the emergence of virtual wards, and better use of data; but this must be turbo charged to continue delivering better outcomes for people, and drive down critical waiting lists for an NHS already stretched to its limit.”
Thérèse has held a number of ministerial positions since being elected an MP in 2010
Thérèse Coffey was elected the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal in May 2010.
She was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Deputy Prime Minister, on 6 September 2022.
Her previous roles include Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions between 8 September 2019 and 6 September 2022; Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between 25 July 2019 and 8 September 2019; and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 17 July 2016 to 25 July 2019.
Coffey also served as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons from May 2015 until July 2016 and served on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
She has campaigned for an end to the A14 toll, improving the NHS experience for patients, and better broadband.
Outside politics, she worked for Mars and, when qualified as a chartered management accountant, became finance director for a UK subsidiary of Mars.
She has also worked at the BBC.
In her personal life she lists her hobbies as watching football, gardening, and music and is a member of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).