Last reviewed 14 November 2023

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has appointed Lincolnshire MP Victoria Atkins to succeed Steve Barclay as Health and Social Care Secretary in his Cabinet reshuffle of 13 November.

Steve Barclay will remain in the Cabinet as Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, as Victoria Atkins leaves her post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury. She was previously Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice and Minister for Afghan Resettlement between September 2021 and 6 July 2022. She was also Minster for Women from 2018 to 2020.

From 2017 to 2021 Victoria Atkins was the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability at the Home Office; her role included work on domestic abuse, honour-based violence, sexual exploitation and FGM.

Victoria Atkins has been the MP for Louth and Horncastle since 2015 and, before becoming an MP, worked as a criminal barrister specialised in prosecuting serious organised crime. She said: “I am honoured to have been asked to serve as secretary of state for health and social care at this critical time for the sector. Our NHS matters to us all, and I look forward to working with NHS and social care colleagues to bolster services during what promises to be a very challenging winter, cut waiting lists and improve patient care.”

She added: “I am also determined to drive forward discussions with striking unions in order to end the ongoing industrial action which has caused so much disruption to patients.” 

Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee Chair Steve Brine said Victoria Atkins’ appointment came at a critical time for the NHS, with the number of patients waiting for treatment at a record high. He said: “Preventing ill-health will be key to helping the NHS manage its resources. Prevention is one of this committee’s priorities and I hope it will be high up the on new Secretary of State’s agenda too.”

The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) Co-chair Helen Fernandes welcomed Victoria Atkins to her new role but said Steve Barclay failed to address several critical issues raised by healthcare professionals regarding pay; working conditions; and the regulation and scope of roles such as physician associates and anaesthesia associates, and called on Victoria Atkins to prioritise these concerns.

National Care Association Executive Co-chairman Nadra Ahmed said she hoped the new secretary of state will “use every opportunity to reach out to the sector and understand the importance and value of social care to those who access it when they need to. We hope that our new secretary of state, who has experience in some elements of social care such as safeguarding, will use every opportunity to reach out to the sector and understand the importance and value of social care to those who access it when they need to.

“Additionally, we hope that her time in the Treasury will have prepared her for the funding challenges we face and how we can support her to secure a fairer funding settlement for social care. I hope to be able to connect with her as soon as possible to support her in this critical role in government which has a direct impact on the citizens of our country.”

Labour Shadow Health Minister Wes Streeting said: “In just under two years that I’ve been Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary I’ve shadowed four Tory secretaries of state and I’m now onto my fifth. This isn’t government. It’s a clown show. Patients are paying the price. Only Labour can offer the change our country needs.”

This comes as Primary Care Minister Neil O’Brien resigns from his post to “focus on constituency work and time with his family”, and other junior ministers, including Health and Secondary Care Minister Will Quince, have also handed in their resignations.