Hunt and Clark refuse to budge from NHS and Business challenges

Jeremy Hunt is to remain as Health Secretary, and has even see his title expanded to include social care as well, after yesterday refusing the Prime Minister’s planned reshuffle.

Theresa May was understood to have wanted Hunt to move across to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but the long-serving health secretary persuaded her to keep him in his current post.

Current business secretary Greg Clark also refused to move from his role, thus blunting what the prime minister had hoped would be a decisive and authoritative reshuffle of her cabinet.

Other developments, such as the resignation of Justine Greening after her removal from the Education role also served to undermine rather than reinforce May’s authority.

The news on Hunt remaining at the Department of Health came after an hour long meeting at 10 Downing Street, where he seemingly not only persuaded the PM to allow him to stay, but also to expand his title to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

This reflects the growing momentum towards integration of the NHS-run health services and council run social care services – although seasoned commentators pointed out that the Health Secretary already has oversight across both domains.

Hunt had also been linked with a move to fill the Cabinet Office post left vacant after Damien Green was forced to quit last month. However Hunt is clearly determined to remain in charge of the NHS, despite the mounting problems caused by growing demand and static government funding – and also despite his own deep unpopularity among some doctors and healthcare professionals.

The NHS in England has been forced to cancel thousands of operations in order to relieve some of the pressure on hospitals, which are seeing waiting times and conditions in A&E deteriorate.

Implications for pharma

For the pharmaceutical industry, the news that Hunt and Clark will both remain in their current roles will be a welcome relief. The two greatest issues facing the sector in 2018 are NHS funding of medicines and Brexit, with Hunt and Clark respectively in charge of working with pharma on these issues.

A reshuffle would have only created further loss of momentum on Brexit, where the UK pharma and biotech industry are now renewing their push for as-close-as-possible alignment with the EU regulatory framework, including the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The sector is desperate to secure this alignment, as well as EU-UK agreement as soon as possible on a transition period, which would minimise the damage caused by Brexit at the end of March 2019.

Hunt and Clark were won over to this point of view by UK life sciences sector last summer, and wrote a letter to the FT calling for continuing alignment.  Their support for this position will be vital in the coming months, as the Brexit negotiations move on to future relations.

The pharma industry is also gearing up to renegotiate the PPRS pricing agreement with the Department of Health by December 2018, and a change of hands at the top would have brought few if any benefits for pharma.

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