THE Government’s turmoil over Brexit masked a significant Cabinet reshuffle which saw Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, replaced at the Department of Health by Matt Hancock.
First appointed in 2012, Mr Hunt is the country’s longest-serving Health Secretary and actually handed over his NHS lapel badge to his successor in a Downing Street ante-room as their new roles were being finalised.
Yet, while Mr Hunt did secure a longer-term financial settlement for the NHS in his final months in the post, the challenges facing Mr Hancock are still significant and epitomised by the difficulties facing health chiefs in Yorkshire.
Promised extra money will not be sufficient to help NHS trusts to pay off historic debts and meet growing demand for care services, as exemplified by Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust where planned attempts to cut the number of beds have faltered.
A primary reason appears to be the number of ‘delayed discharges’ – occurrences when medically-fit elderly patients can’t be released because of shortcomings in social care provision.
Given social care was specifically added to Mr Hunt’s brief at the start of the year, Mr Hancock’s first priority should be accelerating plans for a closer correlation between hospital services and community provision. He could begin by halting plans to downgrade Huddersfield Royal Infirmary until there’s been a reappraisal of the area’s future health needs.
After all, it would be folly to waste the extra funds secured by Mr Hunt on shutting down hospital beds which are then needed at a later date to meet society’s obligations to the elderly.