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Press release: Royal College of Physicians responds to the appointment of Steve Barclay as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The RCP has responded to the appointment of the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Responding to the Steve Barclay appointment, Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said:

“We welcome Steve Barclay back to the Department of Health and Social Care as Secretary of State.

“Serious challenges face health and care as we head into a difficult winter. There are 132,000 vacancies across the NHS, with our own census data showing that over half of advertised consultant physician posts went unfilled last year, and 7 million people on NHS waiting lists. It is vital that staff feel supported and valued – but we know they are tired and working under intense pressure. We urge Mr Barclay and the government to look seriously at the pressure that the system and staff are under as they plan the Autumn Statement for 17 November. The nation clearly faces economic challenges but investing in health is a smart investment to make.

“Workforce must be a top priority. A long-term plan for increasing staffing numbers, including expanding medical school places, is sorely needed to bring down waiting lists and provide care sustainably in the long-term. We urge Mr Barclay to commit to delivering the long-term workforce plan commissioned by government earlier this year, by the end of 2022, underpinned by the necessary funding settlement. Without a credible long-term workforce solution in place, we risk normalising long waits and compromising safe patient care. 

“A long-term plan is vital but there are other things that can be done now from affordable childcare and flexible working to a new ‘retire and return’ deal for consultants. Overseas recruitment will have to be a short- to medium-term solution – but we must aim to train more staff in the UK. Indefinitely relying on overseas recruitment is not an ethical or viable long-term solution to the UK’s workforce challenges.

“The secretary of state must also deliver on the government’s commitment to reduce health inequalities as laid out in its 2019 manifesto. Without bold, ambitious action, the health inequalities that were exacerbated by the pandemic will be further engrained. It will take coordinated and collective efforts from all parts of government to make a dent in this issue. That is why the RCP and the over 230 members of the Inequalities in Health Alliance are calling for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. This isn’t an issue for health alone.”