The Daily Telegraph

Atkins made health chief to solve strike standoff

Barclay makes way after a year of rolling industrial action and one million missed appointmen­ts

- By Amy Gibbons

VICTORIA ATKINS was made Health Secretary yesterday, replacing Steve Barclay, who has presided over nearly a year of strikes.

The former Treasury minister, who is married to the chief executive of a company that owns a huge legal cannabis farm, faces the daunting task of making peace with the unions after her predecesso­r was shunted to the environmen­t brief.

Rishi Sunak made a number of dramatic changes to his top team as he tried to reset his government before the general election, expected next year.

Mr Barclay was made Environmen­t Secretary, replacing Therese Coffey, in a move widely seen as a demotion.

The former health secretary, first appointed to the role in July 2022 before he was briefly cast aside by Liz Truss in September and reinstated by Mr Sunak, spent much of his tenure dealing with rolling strikes.

More than one million appointmen­ts, operations and procedures have been reschedule­d as a result of the wave of industrial action, including walkouts by nurses, paramedics and other health staff, at a cost of £1.4 billion.

In recent weeks, the start of talks with the British Medical Associatio­n has brought faint grounds for optimism, with the union agreeing not to call any more strikes to allow time for discussion­s which followed a long standoff.

NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, said resolving the problem must be top of Ms Atkins’s agenda.

Her move to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) came days after new figures showed 7.77 million people were waiting for NHS treatment in England, the highest number since records began in 2007.

A Cambridge graduate and former barrister, the new Health Secretary was elected MP for Louth and Horncastle in May 2015 and served as financial secretary to the Treasury for a little over a year prior to yesterday’s appointmen­t. She has also held roles in the Ministry of Justice and Home Office.

As women’s minister, she said she was “cautious” about the number of teenagers undergoing gender reassignme­nt treatment and warned the coun- try needed to be “particular­ly alert” to the issue.

Her husband, Paul Kenward, is CEO of ABF Sugar, overseeing British Sugar, which grows non-psychoacti­ve cannabis for medical uses in a massive glasshouse in Wissenden, Norfolk – reported in recent years to be the largest of its kind in Britain.

It raises questions over how she will deal with the topic in her new brief, as she recused herself from policy or decisions relating to the drug years ago – when Mr Kenward was managing director of British Sugar – over a potential conflict of interest.

Asked for comment, Ms Atkins’s team pointed to her new department.

Ms Coffey, a close ally of Ms Truss whose skills on the media round were questioned by some in Downing Street, left Government entirely – telling Mr Sunak she felt it was the “right time to step back”. The former deputy prime minister, who has held several cabinet jobs, has faced ridicule in the past for a series of gaffes.

Last month, she told MPS rain coming from the wrong direction was to blame for the chaos caused by Storm Babet, the deadliest to hit the UK in 15 years.

Elsewhere, Laura Trott, a Downing Street aide during Lord Cameron’s tenure, was promoted to Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

The former pensions minister replaced John Glen, who became paymaster general, while former roads minister Richard Holden took over from Greg Hands as chairman of the Tory Party.

The DHSC has been approached for comment.


The number of people waiting for NHS treatment in England £1bn

The cost to the health service of industrial action from nurses, paramedics and health staff

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