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‘Merry-go-round’ of Health Secretaries must end, unions demand after Steve Barclay becomes FIFTH in over a year amid claims lack of stability has made NHS crisis even worse

  • NHS staff unions say Westminster’s ministerial merry-go-round needs to stop 
  • They claim the crises facing the NHS is not getting the need attention it needs
  • England has had 5 Health Secretaries since the start of 2021, 4 in the last year
  • It comes as the NHS deals with record treatment lists and emergency wait times
  • Widespread mass staff walkouts are also on the horizon as unions ballot on pay 

The ‘merry-go-round’ of Health Secretaries must stop if the Government has any chance of fixing the ailing, medical unions demanded today.

Record waiting lists, a broken emergency service system, strikes and the prospect of the worst winter in living memory are just a selection of NHS issues No10 must get a grip on.

Newly anointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last night appointed Steve Barclay as his Health Secretary, with the expectation of fixing NHS spending. 

Mr Barclay becomes the fourth MP to hold the position in the last year.

It is also his second attempt at the job, having briefly filled the post between July and September after Sajid Javid quit in a wave of resignations that led to the downfall of PM Boris Johnson. 

His most memorable event in the role was being accosted by a member of the public outside a hospital who accused him of doing ‘bugger all’ about the ambulance crisis, cytotec segunda dosis which has seen patients wait up to 40 hours to be transported to hospital. 

Mr Barclay replaces Thérèse Coffey, who kept the seat warm for a grand total of 49 days as part of the ill-fated Liz Truss administration. 

Ms Coffey last night thanked her ministerial team on Twitter, saying ‘we achieved a lot together in seven weeks’.

Steven Barclay’s back again. Boris Johnson’s pick for Health Secretary earlier in the year made a triumphant return yesterday under new PM Rishi Sunak. He inherits a mammoth task of fixing the many crises facing the NHS including the prospect of mass staff walkouts over pay 

Mr Barclay inherits the position from Thérèse Coffey, who herself inherited it from him, but was only in post for 49 days

In a Tweet last night Ms Coffey thanked her ministerial team for their hard work and celebrated what they had achieved in her seven week tenure, some of her most memorable moments in the post include forbidding staff from using Oxford comma and admitting to illegally sharing antibiotics with friends and family


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is urging its 300,000-plus members to vote in favour of strike action when ballots open next month.


The chair of the British Medical Association has warned strike action is ‘inevitable’.

It could see 160,000 doctors, consultants and GPs walk out.

Junior doctors are first staff group to say they will ballot on industrial action, in a poll to be held in the New Year.


The Royal College of Midwives will put putting industrial action to a vote to its 50,000 members.

Two-thirds have already said they would be willing to strike in a preliminary poll. 


The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said more than eight in 10 of its 60,000 members are prepared to strike.

Members will be balloted for the first time in the CSP’s 100-year history over pay.

Some of her most memorable achievements include implying NHS nurses unhappy with their pay can leave the UK, telling civil servants to stop using Oxford commas, and admitting to illegally supplying antibiotics to her friends. 

Today, unions called for an end to chaos in Westminster and for Mr Barclay to get a grip on the staffing crisis they claim is fuelling the issues facing the health service.

Unison, which is about to launch a strike ballot for its some 300,000 NHS members in an attempt to boost pay across the health service, said the constant changes must stop.     

The union’s deputy head of health, Helga Pile, said: ‘Fixing the NHS so patients get the care they need is one of the government’s biggest challenges.

‘The merry go round of blink-and-you-miss-them health secretaries has made things far worse. Without stable leadership, it’s no wonder there are record waiting times and a workforce crisis.’

Ms Pile said if Mr Sunak wanted to fulfil his promise of a stronger NHS, he must boost staff pay now.  

‘That’s the only way to prevent staff feeling they’ve no choice but to leave in droves, or vote for strike action to protect the future of the health service,’ she said. 

The British Medical Association (BMA), which is preparing to launch an industrial action ballot for junior doctors in the New Year, is also hoping for swift action from No10. 

BMA council chair, Professor Philip Banfield, said the union was hopeful Mr Sunak’s experience in the Treasury and new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s previous tenure as Health Secretary would be beneficial to the NHS. 

While Westminster has been subsumed by chaos and political manoeuvring over the last few months, the problems facing the health service, staff and patients have only worsened,’ he said. 

Sajid Javid was Mr Barclay’s original predecessor stepping into the role after Matt Hancock for just over a year before resigning during the Boris Johnson leadership crisis

Mr Hancock is the longest serving Health Secretary in recent times, having an almost three year stint before resigning after footage of him emerged breaching social distancing guidelines by kissing a colleague 


Mr Barclay went to Sandhurst military academy and served in the British Army before studying at the University of Cambridge. He has been the MP for North East Cambridgeshire since 2010.

He took on a series of junior frontbench roles where he became known as a hard-working, loyal and subservient minister.

Mr Barclay was promoted to the Cabinet in 2018 when Theresa May made him Brexit Secretary — a job he kept even when Mr Johnson took over, in a sign of his flexibility given their vastly different views on departing the EU.

He was demoted to No2 in the Treasury, during Mr Javid’s final days in No11, after his Brexit ministerial brief came to an end following the UK’s official departure from the EU. 

He moved back to the cabinet 18 months later as Cabinet Office minister.

This February, a hasty reshuffle after a string of scandals including Partygate saw him appointed Mr Johnson’s chief of staff, which he juggled with his cabinet role of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.

The appointment highlighted Mr Johnson’s faith in the former lawyer from Lancashire. 

The title used to be referred to as the most powerful unelected official in the UK and Mr Barclay was the first MP to hold the role.

He was part of a shake-up of No10 aimed at getting ‘grown ups’ in the room and stabilising his boss’s premiership, which ultimately failed after the Chris Pincher row.

His promotion to Health Secretary suggests Mr Johnson’s team do not necessarily blame him.

‘The presence of a PM that knows the role of Chancellor and a Chancellor who understands the problems of the NHS are equally as relevant to making the bold decisions any Secretary of State for Health might have to make to secure retention of doctors in a system at breaking point.’

He added that the scale of the crisis facing the NHS that has been brewing as Health Secretaries have come and gone couldn’t be underestimated. 

‘The number of patients suffering on long waiting lists, in the back of ambulances or in hospital corridors, has grown, while doctors’ morale has plunged even deeper as they struggle to meet their patients’ needs and become increasingly frustrated with real-terms pay cuts and absurd pension taxation charges,’ he said. 

‘The re-appointed Health Secretary and wider Government must now urgently get a grip on the crisis facing the NHS – which is primarily a workforce crisis – and talk to us as soon as possible to discuss how we can recruit and retain the expert doctors needed to ensure patients get the care they deserve.’

But more hardline unions say the chaos is too far gone and a root and branch approach was needed in Government.  

Union GMB’s acting national secretary, Rachel Harrison, said the NHS has been left ‘on its knees’ whilst the Conservative Party fought amongst itself and called for a general election. 

‘Ministers have been moving themselves around like chess pieces instead of focusing on the crisis in health and social care,’ she said. 

‘They’ve ignored the workers who are at breaking point and they are heading into a winter of deadly patient delays and desperate industrial action.

‘The only way out of the mess is a General Election, then a Labour Health Secretary who will oversee the investment our health service desperately needs.’

Mr Barclay faces a mammoth task of clearing record waiting lists, solving the scandalous ambulance and A&E waiting times, and resolving multiple industrial disputes with NHS staff. 

And Mr Barclay must do this all as the health service faces a tough winter with both Covid and flu predicted to cause a spike in admissions and No10 looks to tighten the nation’s public spending. 

During his 49-day break away from the role, the NHS reached the grim record of more than 7million people in England now waiting for routine ops such as hip and knee replacements.

The NHS waiting list for routine operations has breached 7million for the first time ever. This includes almost 390,000 patients who’ve been forced to wait over a year for treatment

Ambulances took an average of 47 minutes and 59 seconds to respond to category two calls , such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than twice as long as the 18 minute target

A&E waits have also breached a record, with the number of patients facing 12-hour waits exceeding 30,000 

Damning monthly NHS performance stats from the NHS also revealed that more than 30,000 patients faced 12-hour waits in A&E — another record. 

Ambulance waits haven’t fared better with the latest data showing paramedics took just under 48 minutes on average to respond to category two emergencies, which include heart attacks and strokes — more than double the target of 18 minutes.

The rising cost of living is also pushing NHS staff to the brink, with some professionals like nurses quitting the health service to work in retail.

Some NHS hospitals have also opened foodbanks for staff that are struggling to feed themselves.

Under this backdrop nurses, doctors, midwives and other staff groups are considering or voting on industrial action in what could be the largest NHS strikes since the dispute with junior doctors in 2016. 

A series of strikes by junior medics in England led to the cancellation of about 100,000 patient appointments.

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