They say that you know you’re getting old when the police officers start looking younger; well, Matt Hancock’s appearance at the Department of Health and Social Care has had a similar effect on me.
He’s the eighth health secretary under whose auspices I’ve been privileged to toil, but the first one who’s younger than I am. Of course, I’ve aged substantially in the several millennia that have passed since the appointment of his predecessor Jeremy Hunt, whose departure to the Foreign Office inspired scenes of sombre reflection in practices across the country, but still.
In becoming foreign secretary, Jezza performed the same deft trick as when he took over from Lansley at health; bide your time until the current incumbent has totally soiled his basket and then step in as the ‘let’s-face-it-literally-anyone-could-do-a-better-job-than-the-last-muppet’ candidate.
When you consider the abysmal track record of our current Prime Minister and the motley crew of cranks and incompetents waiting in the wings to try to bump her off, you can’t help but wonder whether he’ll be trying it again in the not-too-distant future.
So, what’s the new boss going to be like? Like Mr Hunt before him, Mr Hancock has an NHS lapel pin and a name ripe for comedic spoonerisation, and he also appears to share Jeremy’s belief that technology is the answer to our ongoing workforce calamity.
Of 4,428 words in his maiden speech, the abbreviation GP only appeared seven times, and two of those were a puff for the Babylon GP at Hand app which the new health secretary says ‘works brilliantly’.
This looks like further championing of access over continuity, just as we learn that seeing the same regular doctor is associated with a reduced risk of premature death. There’s no mention of the presumably-kicked-into-the-long-grass-forever 5,000 GP-target, which is just as well, since 400 newly-qualified GPs face being hostile-environmented out of the country just as their training is paid for.
And Mr Hancock’s proposed increase in nurse practitioners to ‘free up doctors’ may be in trouble given that applications for nurse training are down by a third following Mr Hunt’s removal of the nurse training bursary; yet another skid left on the Richmond House pan for his successor to scrub off.
Still, I’m willing to give Mr Hancock a chance. He’s new, he’s said he’s willing to listen, and let’s face it, literally anyone could do better than the last muppet.
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey