Health leaders have responded positively to the appointment of Andrew Lansley as Secretary of State for Health in the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government – but warned of the "difficult task" ahead, of improving patient services in the "tight financial climate".
Andrew Lansley CBE was appointed as the new health secretary yesterday (12 May 2010). Mr Lansley (pictured) is the MP for South Cambridgeshire and previously served as the Shadow Health Secretary – a position he held from 2003.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, BMA Chairman, said: "The formation of a new government is an opportunity to continue the spirit of co-operation and pragmatism, exemplified by their coalition agreement, which will be needed in the tight financial climate we face in the health service.
"We look forward to working constructively and positively with the new health secretary and his ministerial team … to maintain and improve the quality of patient care, a difficult task given that the NHS will be facing serious financial pressures."
Speaking of the "intense pressure to make savings", Dr Meldrum warned: "Cutting clinical staff or frontline services would be not only short-sighted, but could also cause irreparable damage to the NHS. Doctors will want to play a central role in shaping the delivery of healthcare and we would encourage the new government to work with us to ensure that this can happen."
Professor Chris Ham, Chief Executive of healthcare think tank the King's Fund, said: "Andrew Lansley has a deep understanding of our health system. His grasp of the key issues facing the NHS will enable him to hit the ground running, which is essential given it is facing the most significant financial challenge in its history.
"The confirmation that the health budget will increase in real terms over the course of the parliament is good news for the NHS, although this is unlikely to be enough to keep pace with demand for services and cost pressures. Closing the £21bn productivity gap we estimate the NHS is facing must be its top priority if it is to maintain quality and avoid cutting services.
Professor Ham added: "Whether or not the coalition government is able to tackle the economic and social determinants of poor health and reduce health inequalities will be a test of whether it can work effectively across departmental boundaries – something that eluded its predecessors."
Today (13 May 2010), Mr Lansley said: "It is an immense privilege to be appointed Secretary of State for Health in the new government.
"Just as Britain needs strong and stable government, so we intend to bring to the NHS the consistent, stable reform, which enables it to deliver improving quality of care to patients.
"I am determined that we will have an NHS in which the patient shares in making decisions; where quality standards are evidence-based and form the basis of the design of services and their management; and where the objective is consistent improvement in the outcomes we achieve, so that they are amongst the best in the world.
"To achieve this in the current financial crisis requires leadership and highly effective management. The NHS will be backed with increased real resources but with this comes a real responsibility. We will need progressively to be more efficient, to cut the costs of what we do now, to innovate and redesign, in order to enable us to meet increased demands and to improve quality and outcomes.
"This will not happen in a top-down, bureaucratic system. Decisions must be taken with patients, close to patients and with clinical leadership at the fore.
"If we are to succeed in improving the health service, we must also improve the public health of the nation. We must promote good health, stronger locally owned public health strategies and effective screening and prevention of disease.
"There is much to do. If I have learnt one thing over six-and-a-half years as Shadow Health Secretary, it is that in the NHS we have an immense number of talented, committed and capable people, who want to be trusted to get on with the job. It will be my task to enable the NHS to do this; with our shared ambition to achieve the best healthcare service anywhere in the world."
The new ministerial team at the Department of Health is expected to be announced shortly.