June 20, 2024

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Looking to Labour – what next for medtech?

Chris Whitehouse, a political consultant and expert on medical technology policy and regulation at Whitehouse Communications, chair of the Urology Trade Association, and governor of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, looks at the background of what could be the next team of health and social care ministers.

It’s no small secret that the UK has cautiously turned its eye to Labour to take to government at the next general election – whenever that may be.

With recent polls putting Labour support at double that of the Conservatives, a lead of 23 points, it won’t be long before the civil service buckles down into ‘purdah’ – a period when new policy announcements are forbidden – and begins to hold talks with Labour ministers-in-waiting to ensure a smooth transition to a potential new government.

That will mean talking with shadow health and care secretary, Wes Streeting, and his team of junior ministers to establish what Labour’s priorities will be when in command of the Department of Health and Social Care, and ensure that working relationships are established in advance. 

Industry will quickly need to get up to speed with who Labour’s main health players are and what their individual priorities are and ensure that its voice is heard throughout this process. With that in mind, who are the individuals who are likely to be governing in DHSC in the near future?

At the helm is MP for Ilford North, former councillor, and veteran opposition frontbencher, Wes Streeting. Streeting has unveiled a litany of promises for the health sector under a Labour government in recent months, including a New Deal for Care Workers, a National Care Service, and beating the backlog. Above all, Streeting has promised to “hold the door wide open” to the NHS for the private sector in a bid to maximise collaboration between the NHS and the independent sector, improve the health system across the country, and boost innovation. 

The shadow health secretary’s comments mark a welcomed trajectory for industry, recognising the value that public-private partnerships in the health sector provide when it comes to patient choice, quality of care, and availability of support. 

Flanking Streeting is a bumper team of six shadow junior ministers who take responsibility for specific areas of Labour’s health and social care policy. Preet Gill brings her background as a social worker specialising in children’s services and as a cabinet member for Public Health and Protection into her shadow ministerial responsibilities for Primary Care and Public Health. Shadow health minister Karin Smyth, meanwhile, converts her wealth of experience as an NHS manager at Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group into her new frontbench parliamentary priorities. Andrew Gwynne, shadow social care, has spoken widely about the importance of improving health outcomes, both by better joining up social care and NHS services and by addressing persistent staff shortages.

Abena Oppong-Asare is the newest member of the shadow health team, taking the brief of women’s health and mental health, and yet has already shown a can-do attitude, noted for being among the top six MPs to table the most Parliamentary Questions in the 2021 parliamentary session, and considered “one to watch” from the 2019 intake of MPs. 

Across the parliamentary corridor, Baroness Wheeler and Baroness Merron will represent the Labour frontbench in the House of Lords. Both have been shadow spokespersons for health and social care in the Lords for five years and two years respectively. Organisations would be wise to exploit this experience and see the Lords shadow team as an efficient and effective route to the inboxes of the government-in-waiting.

If Streeting and his team have pledged to hold the door open for the independent sector, it’s now up to industry to meet him at the entrance. Effective engagement will be vital to ensure that this new future of the NHS and wider health system is fireproof, and built on principles of sharing best practice, pooling resources, and keeping patients at the heart of all decision-making. Innovation is at the heart of the medtech sector, and a new Labour government will be eager for ideas.

When precisely the country will take to the polls to decide Labour’s fate is yet to be seen. In the meantime, now is the time for industry to step up to Streeting and ensure that the voice of the sector is proudly heard and understood as we head into a critical period of electioneering. 

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