The Daily Telegraph

I’m no role model but my job is to deliver, says Coffey

Health Secretary sets out ‘ABCD’ list of priorities as ministers insist nanny state is on the way out

- By Laura Donnelly and Tony Diver

MINISTERS have signalled an end to “nanny state” measures as Thérèse Coffey admits she is not a “role model” for the country.

The new Health Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister yesterday set out her top four priorities: “A, B, C, D – ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists” as she promised to “stand up for patients”. Questioned about her own smoking and drinking, and whether she “could possibly do with losing a pound or two,” she said her focus was on “how we deliver for patients”.

She told LBC: “I appreciate I may not be the role model, but I am sure that the Chief Medical Officer and others will continue to be role models in that regard and I will do my best as well.”

Ms Coffey has long taken a libertaria­n stance on public health matters.

In 2010 she voted for the ban on smoking indoors to be overturned, and two years later expressed serious concerns about plans to put cigarettes in plain packaging.

She is expected to resist pressure from health groups for further measure to combat obesity, with the Prime Minister having already outlined her opposition to any extension of sugar taxes. In coming months, the Government is expected to publish a white paper on making Britain smoke free by 2030. An independen­t review earlier this year made a series of recommenda­tions, including continuous­ly raising the age people can buy cigarettes, until no one can buy them.

But Ms Coffey, who has said she enjoys a cigar, is not expected to support such a stance, with the paper more likely to focus on services to help those trying to quit.

Other policy decisions awaiting the Health Secretary include a proposed ban on TV advertisem­ents for foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar, and an end to “buy one get one free” deals.

Both measures were proposed under the last Government, but delayed. A

white paper on health disparitie­s, promised by Sajid Javid earlier this year, also remains in limbo, with Ms Coffey expected to be reluctant to take punitive measures to cut rates of smoking or drinking in the most deprived areas.

Chris Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Thérèse Coffey’s voting record and her friendship with Liz Truss suggest she is no nanny statist.

“The Department of Health is riddled with activist civil servants so she will have to be forceful in saying ‘No’ to their meddlesome demands.

“Health ministers have a habit of going native within a few weeks of starting the job. We must hope that she sticks to her guns and focuses on fixing NHS.”

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said tackling Britain’s weight problem was at least as pressing as dealing with the NHS front line.

“A strategy to tackle the epidemic is already in her office awaiting implementa­tion, authored by England’s Chief Medical Officer three years ago. It lists all the options available to end the epidemic,” said Mr Fry, adding that obesity costs the UK economy £58billion a year.

Ms Coffey, who is Catholic, has previously spoken out against abortion based on her religious views, admitting that she would “prefer that people didn’t have abortions but I am not going to condemn people that do”. Earlier this year, she voted against making at-home abortion pills, introduced during the pandemic, permanentl­y available in England and Wales.

She has also voted against extending abortion rights in Northern Ireland and as a backbenche­r introduced a motion calling for “mental health assessment­s” for women seeking an abortion.

Yesterday, Ms Coffey insisted that she will not seek to “undo any aspects of abortion laws” despite her views.

Regarding the vote on at-home pills, she said: “Well, I’m a democrat and the vote was won in Parliament by people who wanted to make that permanent. There are many other people who are exceptiona­lly pro-abortion who did not want that to happen. However, Parliament voted and that happened.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which offers Nhs-funded abortions, has said her record on abortion rights is “deeply concerning”.

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, said Ms Coffey was “sensible, pragmatic and approachab­le, so I think will go down well in the NHS”.

“She also has a dry sense of humour and is dab hand at karaoke – I seem to remember venting my frustratio­ns at the height of the junior doctors’ strike by singing Suspicious Minds, which was probably more enjoyable for me than for those listening,” he said.

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