Tom Richmond: Time that Health Secretary Matt Hancock made clear his plans for the NHS

WHEN Speaker John Bercow was surrounded by protesting Conservative MPs after Jeremy Corbyn muttered derogatory remarks about Theresa May, the Health Secretary was towards the front of the queue.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is among those taking the Speaker to task at PMQs.

Demonstrating a degree of urgency, Matt Hancock could be seen hectoring the Speaker as the House of Commons descended into farce over whether the Labour leader uttered the words ‘stupid woman’ or ‘stupid people’.

However I now hope that Mr Hancock finds himself surrounded in the New Year by MPs demanding publication of the new long-term plan for the NHS – and a separate review into social care.

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Harvey Smith carries the Olympic flame at York in 2012.

For the benefit of readers, the NHS plan is supposed to set out how the health service will invest an extra £20.5bn a year by 2023-24. This is not an insignificant investment and Mrs May said earlier this year that the health service “can’t afford to wait” until the planned review of public spending in 2019.

Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee in March, Mrs May said the Government needed to get away from annual top-ups of the health service budget and she wanted changes to be made during the NHS’s 70th anniversary year. This ends on Monday.

She was not alone in making this pledge. Both NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens – and Mr Hancock – did likewise. And it is the same with the Green Paper on social care, a sector which is facing unprecedented financial pressures. It, too, was due to be published in the autumn because there is widespread recognition that community care is fundamental to NHS reform and vice-versa.

Before Mr Hancock harangues others, perhaps he would care to get his own house in order and explain when these policy documents will be published. Irrespective of the outcome of Brexit, they’re critical to the future of health of the country. And if he can’t provide a definitive timetable, people will conclude – rightly or wrongly – that he is not standing up sufficiently for the NHS.

DESPITE his military service, Paddy Ashdown never stood on ceremony. On the occasions when I telephoned the former Lib Dem leader about pieces for this newspaper and referred to him as Lord Ashdown, he would always say: “Call me Paddy.” His columns were always on time – and signed P.

Yet, while much has been made of his tweet appealing to people not to make a fuss when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer two months ago, one of his last social media posts is worth repeating.

It was written when Dominic Raab and Esther McVey quit Theresa May’s Cabinet last month over Brexit. “For all her faults, Mrs May remains the only adult in the room. At the top, the rest are just a bunch of self-obsessed pygmies, charlatans and incompetents who should not be allowed to run a whelk stall,” he posted.

About right.

NOW on the subject of whelk stalls and their mismanagement, Chris Grayling implies that he wasn’t running the trains earlier this year because he was busy managing the planes.

Yet, following the Gatwick drone debacle, it emerges he wasn’t running the planes – namely improving airport security – because he was busy with the trains. Really?

Yet, while The Times did publish an editorial headlined ‘Slow starter: The Transport Secretary is under-performing across his brief’, where have they been? The Yorkshire Post has been saying this for 18 months.

As such, there’s a bottle of Champagne going to the first backbencher who dares to ask Theresa May at PMQs: “What does it say to the public about the integrity of politics when Ministers like Chris Grayling appear unsackable?”

And two if they get a satisfactory answer as commuters brace themselves for the insult next Wednesday of another fare increase and no guarantee that their train will run on time after punctuality levels reached a 13-year low.

APOLOGIES to the regular reader – apparently there is one – who was disappointed that the aforementioned Chris Grayling did not feature in last week’s pre-Christmas column.

“Was I going soft?” they asked. Not at all. Rest assured this newspaper will continue to hold the Transport Secretary and his officials to account for a level of under-performance that would be tolerated in the rest of the public sector or private industry.

The regret is this will have to be done without the support of all those Conservative MPs from this region who do not appear to be exercised by this issue. They must be confident that a General Election will not be called next year.

THE legendary cricket commentator Brian Johnson always took delight in sending postcards to fast bowler Fred Trueman which just contained the address ‘Yorkshire’.

They always arrived. And hence my pleasure when I received a card from a one-time colleague addressed ‘Yorkshire Post, Leeds, Yorkshire’. Top marks to the Royal Mail for a first class service.

HAPPY 80th birthday to the one – and only – showjumping legend Harvey Smith who is proud to describe himself as “self-taught”.

Even now, he’s looking to the future rather than dwelling on his past successes which, he says, are too numerous to list. But then he recalls the memorable moment when he carried the Olympic torch down York’s Knavesmire on horseback in 2012. One of the last times he rode a horse, he tells me: “There were 25,000 people there. Frankie (Dettori) never got near at Ascot.”

Talk about a two-fingered salute to the South – and still known, after all these years, as a Harvey Smith...