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The temporary health secretary

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In my Covid-induced brain fog writing our breaking news story about the departure of health secretary Sajid Javid yesterday, I made an error. In the line of his letter to the Prime Minister, where he wrote ‘we may not always have been popular’, I wrote ‘we may not always have been competent’.

Now, a good number of you may think that the erroneous sentence was the factually correct one. And, when applied solely to the Prime Minister, it is definitely appropriate.

But was Javid himself incompetent? I’m not sure that is the right word. Because I never felt he was engaged enough in the health brief to be incompetent.

When looking back at his past year in the role, what did he do, or what programme did he pursue? In his resignation speech, he referred to the vaccination programme – which was up and running long before he took the role – and attacking the long waiting lists for secondary care (though I would question how successful this really was).  

With regards to general practice, I can think of only two real interventions: first, pursuing the Mail’s line on face-to-face appointments through the damp squib of the winter access fund; and second, his hint in the Times that he was looking at trusts taking on GP services as part of a wider strategy for general practice, which there was no concrete policy announcements about.

There was also, of course, approving the imposed contract on GPs, although this was mainly led by NHS England.

However, the main feeling I had throughout was this was someone who was stopping off at health, potentially with an eye for the big job. He is the first health secretary during my time at Pulse where we weren’t hounding his advisers for an interview every week. This might be because he was one of the shortest-serving health secretaries – but Matt Hancock set out his digital footprint within months of taking the role.

There is an argument that a quiet health secretary is a good health secretary. But that argument can’t be made for a time when general practice (and the whole NHS) is in the middle of a genuine crisis and huge reform is needed.

Having said all that, politics is a strange game. His replacement, Steve Barclay, will more than likely be even more suited to the title of temporary health secretary. And we can’t rule out that when everything shakes out, Mr Javid will come back to health. And if that does happen, let’s hope he has more appetite for the role than he did first time round.  

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at


Sam Macphie 6 July, 2022 2:40 pm

Will Barclay be the ‘Locum’ Health Secretary who will ‘cost you dear’? and when he leaves there will be even more to sort out, no offence to good locum GPs.

Neil Hartington 7 July, 2022 1:11 pm


Patrufini Duffy 11 July, 2022 8:09 pm

If he can quickly sign off a couple of hush hush procurement contracts at mates rates, then it’ll be a locum job done very well.