Dear Sajid Javid,
The health portfolio is a proven political graveyard. Like for many of your predecessors, this will be the end of your political ambitions if you don’t play your cards right. Many, seemingly very rightly, describe being health secretary as the job from hell.
Most Conservative health secretaries have traditionally been seen as, at best, reluctant supporters of the NHS, and, more often as would-be, privatisers.
Similarly, you, rightly or wrongly, have been labelled as an advocate of a US-style private insurance-funded health service.
As chancellor, you appeared to support austerity and starve the NHS of necessary funds. Now, you’ll be confronted by the real consequences of the policies that you consistently supported.
Your past jobs, including as aide to Republican politician Rudy Giuliani and director at Deutsche Bank, might seem to support the accusations that you would work to facilitate the privatisation of the NHS by supporting the proposed legislation.
The BMA rightly reminds you that you have a ‘huge and urgent task ahead’.
Among the most challenging issues are the continued rollout of the vaccine, the rising backlog of non-Covid issues, and social care reform.
Crucially, millions are waiting for non-Covid related treatment – a backlog that risks crippling the NHS with significant shortages across both the health and social care workforces.
Staff burnout has reached an ‘emergency’ level, with BMA surveys demonstrating just how many overworked doctors are considering leaving the health service because of a lack of respite from the pandemic. Of course, as the backlog shows no sign of relenting, this will only get worse.
Early retirement of GPs and consultants will of course bear massive consequences for the NHS and patient care.
In your debut statement to Parliament in the role, I feel that you came across as a bit bullishly positive about what to do. Considering that you’ve only been in post for three days, this can’t come from in-depth knowledge, background or experience.
Since your views seem to reflect those of ‘business’, you come across at first blush as a money-man principally. I worry that this means that you may not adequately recognise the public health issues and workforce crisis that remain such a worry for the likes of me.
If you don’t want to beat the record of your predecessor Matt Hancock as the worst health secretary, I feel that you need to consider the following:
• Quitting your affiliation with money-generating second jobs and links to JP Morgan.
• Halting and rethinking the NHS reforms legislation with profession input, and assure the frontline that the NHS is clinically-led.
• Remembering that reforms happen frequently, but, according to history, deliver little benefit.
• Paying NHS staff their due pay rise, not 1% – that’s actually a cut.
• Appreciating how the profession’s morale is is rock bottom.
• Abolishing car parking charges on premises for NHS staff.
• Banning the selling of medical records.
• Concentrating on social reforms.
• Pledging not to accelerate the private sector as the NHS in disguise to reduce waiting lists.
All in all, remember that this role will test your metal for building a national public institution – not dismantling it. I wish you luck.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP in Tameside