The dust has settled and the excitement has rescinded after David Cameron and a select team of four advisers made the first reshuffle of the coalition government – and caused quite a stir in the process. Perhaps the biggest move has been the demotion of Andrew Lansley, architect of the NHS reforms, to a new role as Leader of the House of Commons. The Secretary of State for Health is now Jeremy Hunt, the previous Culture Secretary. But there’s not just the boys at the top to talk about, there have been plenty of changes within the lower ministerial positions, and some ministers remaining in post that will be welcome to the medical research community.
So, what does the reshuffle mean for medical research?
Jeremy Hunt replaces Andrew Lansley as Secretary of State for Health
Everyone’s been talking about this one so I won’t say much. Apparently Jeremy Hunt has been taking briefings on health policy since January suggesting that this move might not have been a surprise to him. Looking back at questions he’s asked in parliament and his activities he seems to have had little interest in medical research and concerns have been raised by some scientists that he has previously shown support for homeopathy.
Earl Howe remains as minister for quality in the Department of Health
Many will be relieved that the House of Lord’s minister for health, whose responsibilities include research, has stayed put. In fact Earl Howe is the only health minister to have survived the reshuffle. It was in the Lords where research in the Health and Social Care Bill (the NHS reforms) was extensively debated and duties to promote research across the NHS were strengthened. There is still lots of work under way putting the reforms in place, and the upcoming Care and Support Bill proposes to establish the Health Research Authority and Health Education England as non-departmental public bodies – both of which have a big role in supporting health research. We’re pleased to continue to be working with Earl Howe as we focus on how research will be supported at every level of the NHS.
Daniel Poulter replaces Simon Burns as Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health
Daniel Poulter is a medical doctor who joined the Commons as a Tory MP in the 2010 election. He has an interest in maternity care and has asked questions about research into still births and also about the assessment of homeopathy by the government.
Anna Soulby replaces Anne Milton as Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health
Anna Soulby, an ex-journalist, is replacing Anne Milton, a qualified nurse. Soubry has tabled questions to ministers on bone cancer and services for people with mental health problems but not much in the way of research.
Norman Lamb replaces Paul Burstow as Minister of State in the Department of Health
Norman Lamb was previously a junior minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He will now take over as minister for care services. He was the Lib Dem health spokesperson before the 2010 election. Many believe Lansley vetoed Lamb’s appointment as a health minister after the election. Although he is clearly passionate about health, his questions and activities in the past haven’t really covered medical research.
David Willetts remains as Minister for Science and Universities
David Willetts is generally considered to be doing a good job at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He has a good understanding and appreciation of the research environment and played a part in ensuring science was spared the worst of the cuts in the last spending review.
As far as we are aware, George Freeman MP remains as Willett’s adviser on life sciences.
Lynne Featherstone moves to the Department for International Development
As equalities minister at the Home Office Lynne Featherstone’s role covered regulation of animal research. The UK regulations are in the process of being updated in line with EU legislation. We expect Statutory Instruments to update UK law to be published shortly, with parliament debating them in the coming months. The Equalities Office will now move to the Department for Culture Media and Sport but presumably the animal research function will not, so we wait to see which minister will take on this brief.
A full list of the new cabinet can be found here.