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Thérèse Coffey: who is the new health secretary and what’s her plan for fixing the NHS?

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 09 September 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o2193
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. Kent

England’s new health and social care secretary takes office at a time of greater crisis in the NHS than faced by her predecessors and with an overflowing in-tray, as Jacqui Wise reports

England’s fifth health and social care secretary in five years faces an unenviable task, with a record 6.84 million people on hospital waiting lists at the end of July1 and chronic staff shortages that stand at around 132 000 in NHS trusts and 165 000 in adult social care. On top of this, distressing stories of people waiting hours, or even days, for ambulances regularly hit the headlines. And it’s not even winter yet, with another covid wave, a bad flu season, and even doctors strikes all possible in the coming months.

“The context for the new health secretary is grim,” Hugh Alderwick, director of policy at the Health Foundation, told The BMJ. “Health and care services in England are under extraordinary strain, and more people are struggling to get the care they need. The cost-of-living crisis will put even more pressure on people and public services over winter.”

Hard worker or party animal?

Coffey, appointed by the UK’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, to the dual role of health secretary and deputy prime minister, has become the third person to hold the health and social care post in as many months. She takes over from Steve Barclay,2 who had only two months in the job.

Coffey is said to have a tireless work ethic and claims that her attention to detail in her previous role as work and pensions secretary was why she had been rewarded with the demanding health job. Nadine Dorries, the former culture …

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