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Victoria Atkins: Will a new health secretary see a shift from Barclay’s adversarial approach?

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 16 November 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:p2715
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Health leaders are optimistic that a fresh face will bring fresh ideas to a workforce at a low ebb, reports Gareth Iacobucci

“I think the mood music has already changed.” This was the verdict of one healthcare leader this week, and others seemed in broad agreement, about the news that Victoria Atkins was the new secretary of state for health and social care.

Appointed in a cabinet reshuffle that saw the combative Steve Barclay moved from health to become environment secretary, Atkins is taking on her first senior cabinet position. She has previously held junior and mid-level ministerial roles at the Home Office, the Department of Justice, and most recently, the Treasury.

As healthcare leaders gathered in Liverpool this week for the annual conference of NHS Providers (where Barclay had been due to speak), the mood was generally positive. There was hope that Atkins’s appointment would lead to a less adversarial tone from the Department of Health and Social Care and provide an opportunity to make progress on key issues, including resolving the doctors’ strikes.

More conciliatory tone

Atkins, the MP for Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire since 2015, lacks the public profile of other cabinet colleagues, but the former criminal barrister is described by colleagues as steady, hardworking, and competent.1

Viewed as being from the centrist part of the Conservative …

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