Therese Coffey unveils an 'ABCD' of priorities for fixing NHS

Therese Coffey vows to fix ailing NHS: New Health Secretary unveils ‘ABCD’ of priorities – with deadly ambulance delays, Covid-induced backlogs, social care crisis, and access issues with both doctors and dentists at top of her agenda

  • Dr Coffey places ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists as priorities
  • She faces a bulging in-tray of record waits for treatment and fending off strikes
  • Lizz Truss has tasked her with putting the health service on a ‘firm footing’ 

Therese Coffey today outlined her four-step plan to fix the ailing NHS, unveiling her ‘ABCD’ list of priorities.

The newly-appointed Health Secretary, who will also be deputy PM underneath her close friend Liz Truss, promised to place ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists at the top of her agenda.

She has been tasked with putting the crisis-stricken NHS back on a ‘firm footing’ by the new Prime Minister.

In her first day in charge of the Department of Health and Social Care, Dr Coffey has vowed to ensure ‘we are delivering for patients’.

Deadly ambulance delays have left heart attack patients waiting up to three hours to be taken to hospital.

Waiting times for routine ops, such as hip and knee replacements, shot up to record highs before Covid. But the pandemic, and knock-on effects of lockdown, have seen queues soar to an all-time high.

Social care is facing its own pressing issues, with a lack of staff and available beds in hospitals fuelling problems seen within the NHS.

At the same time, patients have complained about how difficult it is to see both their GP and dentist. 

Actual details of how the crises will be tackled were not revealed, although Dr Coffey is expected to set out further plans in an emergency blueprint next week. 

However, Dr Coffey, a qualified chemist, didn’t address the looming threat of medics’ striking in her mantra. Unions also criticised her for failing to list the workforce crisis, which is seen as central to the health service’s grisly performance.

Britain’s new Health Secretary Therese Coffey has outlined her plan to ‘deliver for patients’ with a new ‘ABCD’ list of priorities for fixing the NHS

Dr Coffey (pictured in Downing Street this morning), who is also the new Deputy Prime Minister, said she would put ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists at the top of her agenda

The Work and Pensions Secretary is a fellow member of the 2010 parliamentary intake whose Suffolk Coastal constituency neighbours Ms Truss’s South West Norfolk seat, and they have long been allies. 

She has earned a reputation in Westminster as a ‘workhorse’ thanks to her scientific attention to detail and willingness to work long hours. 

Dr Coffey was Ms Truss’s campaign manager in the parliamentary stage of the leadership election.

The pair became friends while campaigning as young Tories in the late nineties and early noughties.

Ms Coffey secured a PhD in chemistry at University College London and worked in finance at Mars Drinks UK and the BBC before being elected as an MP.

She attended her first Cabinet meeting in 2019 after being appointed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), where she earned praise for having a relatively quiet tenure at what is seen as something of a poisoned chalice in government. 

Colleagues have described Ms Truss and Dr Coffey as ‘yin and yang’, with Ms Truss viewed as a big picture politician and Ms Coffey a forensic operator who knows her brief inside out. 

But despite her work ethic, the new Health Secretary holds several opinions that could ruffle the feathers of senior NHS leaders.

In an interview in June following the Roe vs Wade ruling in the US, she said she would prefer that women ‘didn’t have abortions’, but added she would not ‘condemn people that do’.

She has also defended her decision to vote against same-sex marriage in Britain in 2013 and in Northern Ireland in 2019, citing her faith as a catholic.

She got in hot water a year ago when she was filmed belting out The Time of My Life at a boozy Conservative karaoke party Conference bash hours before cutting benefit payments to six million people. 

Her alcohol-fuelled karaoke parties in Whitehall, of which Ms Truss is a regular attendee, have become famous in Westminster.

In an interview with Sky News, Dr Coffey — the third Health Secretary in as many months — said: ‘I’m just about to go… and meet our great civil servants who I’m going to work with.

‘We have got priorities A, B, C and D — ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists.

‘We’re going to work through that and make sure that we’re delivering for patients.’

Dr Coffey, known within Whitehall as a workhorse, repeated the mantra on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

She said: ‘I’m very conscious that we want to be promoting what we can do better for patients, so they can get their appointments, whether for a doctor or a dentist to tackle the backlogs, the ambulances and of course social care.

‘That’s my ABCD, in terms of what I’ll be doing within the Department of Health and Social Care.

‘I would like to think that where my previous role in work and pensions, that attention to delivery and detail is the reason why the PM has asked me to lead the DHSC, and that is what I intend to do.’

Dr Coffey told LBC: ‘I’m also very conscious that we need to make improvements and we need to make them quickly.’

Ex-Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who was ousted in Ms Truss’s cabinet shake-up, also had the ambulance crisis at the top of his in-tray.

Heart attack and stroke patients had to wait an hour on average for an vehicle last month, more than triple the 18-minute target.

A man died in the back of an ambulance outside Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at the end of last month after being forced to wait to be admitted more than six hours.

Dr Coffey did not explain how the crisis could be solved, but Mr Barclay pledged to use data to target the ‘small number of trusts’ that contributed to ‘almost half of ambulance handover delays’.

Handover delays outside hospitals are one of the biggest factors behind the NHS ambulance crisis, experts say.

Paramedic crews are expected to pass all patients over to emergency departments within 15 minutes of arriving at hospital.

But a lack of space inside A&Es has forced medics to wait up to 24 hours before handing patients over to hospital staff.

And it’s not only patients needing ambulances who have been left waiting. 

There are currently 6.7million patients in England languishing on NHS waiting lists for routine operations such as knee replacements and cataracts surgery, often in pain. 

The queue is expected to keep growing for the next two years as people come forward for treatment after delays during the pandemic. 

As part of efforts to clear the backlog, the Government has already pledged to build new surgical hubs.

The NHS claims the longest time patients could wait will reduce so that by March 2025 patients aren’t waiting longer than a year for surgery. 

Tackling the social care crisis will help to alleviate pressure on both ambulances and free up the waiting list, however.

Both issues are being exacerbated by record levels of bed-blocking — when elderly patients can’t be discharged into care homes because of a lack of beds there. 

During the Tory leadership vote, Ms Truss vowed to redirect billions from the health service’s budget to the crippled social care sector.

Cigar-smoking, karaoke-loving MP Therese Coffey will be the new health Secretary – the third in as many months

She faces a mammoth in-tray that includes clearing record NHS backlogs, fending off historic levels of strikes and addressing a deadly crisis in A&E

The number of people in England on the waiting list for routine hospital treatment hit a record 6.7million in June — meaning one in eight are now stuck in the backlog

Latest NHS England data for July shows that more than 29,000 sickened people waited 12 hours at A&E units last month (yellow lines) — four times more than the NHS target and up by a third on June, which was the previous record. Meanwhile, the proportion of patients seen within four hours — the timeframe 95 per cent of people are supposed to be seen within — dropped to 71 per cent last month (red line), the lowest rate logged since records began in 2010

NHS England ambulance figures show the average wait for heart attack and stroke victims surpassed 59 minutes for only the second time ever (red bars). The yellow line shows the number of category two calls, which hit 379,460

An extra £36billion of cash has been allocated to the NHS and social care over the next three years through No10’s controversial levy, with just £6billion going to the latter.

Ms Truss outlined plans to completely scrap the extra tax.

Instead, she pledged to devote the same huge package of cash — funded through existing taxes, not an extra levy — solely to local authorities, who look after social care in England.

Experts brutally described it as being like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. 

Therese Coffey inherits an NHS ‘in crisis’ 

Therese Coffey has inherited an NHS and social care system ‘in crisis’, health leaders have said.

Experts from across the sector have welcomed Ms Coffey to her new role as Health Secretary but warned that she has taken on the job during a challenging period for the health service.

As well as being appointed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for England, Ms Coffey is stepping up to become Liz Truss’s second-in-command as Deputy Prime Minister.

Experts have said that they hope the dual role shows that the Government is taking the challenges facing the health service ‘seriously’. They also welcomed the indication from the new Prime Minister that she would ‘put our health service on a firm footing’.

Health leaders said the pressing items in Ms Coffey’s in-tray will include:

  • A record waiting list;
  • Problems in urgent and emergency care;
  • Soaring numbers of patients stuck in hospital due to ‘delayed discharges’;
  • A crisis in dentistry services with many struggling to access care;
  • Challenges facing mental health, community, acute and ambulance services;
  • Worries over winter pressures including further waves of Covid-19 and additional pressures from flu;
  • Concerns over how the cost of living crisis will impact the health service;
  • Possibility of health and care staff taking industrial action over pay.

When asked about the plan, Dr Coffey indicating that diverting the funds was still the intention.

She said: ‘Within the system, there are people currently in hospital who don’t need to be in hospital, do need continuing care, but not necessarily in our acute hospitals.

‘That’s why making sure that we help patients get to the right place where they need to be will open up the opportunity and capacity for more people to be treated in our acute hospitals.’

Dr Coffey also did not reveal anything about the last part of her mantra: doctors and dentists.

Patients are still struggling to get a GP appointment, which campaigners and experts say is driving those who are most desperate to emergency departments and clogging up the system even more.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of English adults haven’t seen an NHS dentist since the early days of Covid due to to an ‘exodus’ of dentists into the private sector.

Ms Truss said she would ‘make sure that people can get doctors’ appointments and the NHS services they need’ yesterday. 

Dr Coffey also ruled out backing policies suggested by Ms Truss’s old thinktank Reform, which suggested charging patients to visit their GP.

She also remained open to the idea of letting private companies use NHS hospitals, saying she wants to utilise ‘all the capacity that there is’. 

Dr Coffey takes over from Mr Barclay, who was placed as a caretaker of the department after Sajid Javid quit in protest against Mr Johnson’s premiership in July.

Despite naming several key crisis currently affecting the NHS, she did not address the threat of strikes in her priorities. 

The Royal College of Nursing is currently balloting its 300,000-plus members over pay disputes, earlier this week setting a 10-day deadline on action. 

Junior doctors have also issued ministers with an ultimatum for the end of September — warning they will vote on strike action if their 2 per cent pay offer is not upped. 

Asked how she would avert industrial action, she said: ‘I hope of course that people will continue to put their patients first.’

‘I think people will be receiving a significant package that’s already been agreed, and that’s through the independent pay review body. 

‘We’ve accepted that recommendation. More broadly, the Government has been investing in cost-of-living payments.’

The RCN also claimed Dr Coffey neglected to mention the staffing crisis in her list of priorities. 

RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen told MailOnline: ‘She should start at the other end of the alphabet with W for workforce.’

ANDREW PIERCE: Liz Truss and her karaoke and cigar-loving, Liverpool-supporting pal Therese Coffey are superficially so unalike… but are the firmest political and personal soulmates 

By Andrew Pierce for the Daily Mail 

One favours pristine, colour-block dresses, the other was once caught on camera at a party chomping on a cigar with a drink spilled down her front. But Liz Truss and Therese Coffey – so superficially unalike – are political and personal soul mates. Now, their enduring friendship has helped propel the former into Number 10.

At the party to celebrate her victory on Monday night – held on the spectacular roof of London’s River Building and fuelled by wine, cocktails and burritos (one of Truss’s favourite foods) – it was Coffey whom Truss singled out for praise.

Truss knows she owes a large part of her victory to her ever-faithful parliamentary companion. She has rewarded her lavishly – appointing her as Deputy Prime Minister and Health Secretary.

In a cut-throat political world, Coffey has shown absolute loyalty to her new boss over many years. She not only ran Truss’s successful campaign against Rishi Sunak for the leadership, but wisely persuaded her not to stand against Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest – paving the way for her to become his successor instead.

Liz Truss and Therese Coffey – so superficially unalike – are political and personal soul mates. Now, their enduring friendship has helped propel the former into Number 10

Liz Truss (left) and Therese Coffey (middle) sing the national anthem together before the Women’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley

Liz Truss and Therese Coffey are all smiles as they attend a Cabinet meeting together in 2019

Liz Truss and Therese Coffey leave Downing Street after attending a Cabinet meeting in 2021

The two have been friends since their student politics days more than 25 years ago and are known by some colleagues as ‘Yin and Yang’. Truss refers to Coffey affectionately as ‘Tiz’.

Interestingly, they started out as rivals, running against one another to be the Tory parliamentary candidate in South West Norfolk in 2007. It was Truss who triumphed.

She then took Coffey under her wing, coaching her on how to raise her game in selection meetings. Coffey was duly chosen for the neighbouring Suffolk Coastal constituency in 2010.

The two share a love of karaoke – which has got them into trouble in the past. Their regular karaoke evenings on the ministerial corridor in the Commons have on occasion become so boisterous that they were ticked off by Parliamentary authorities.

Coffey herself has had her own problems with karaoke – and they were nothing to do with how tuneful she is. During the 2021 Tory conference in Manchester, the then Work and Pensions Secretary was filmed at 1am belting out the classic song from the film Dirty Dancing, (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.

Alas, only one hour earlier, her department had withdrawn the £20 weekly increase in universal credit for benefit claimants introduced during the pandemic. Coffey was upbraided over her lack of tact and her insensitive choice of song. She now prefers singing Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

However, Coffey has never lived down a picture taken at a Spectator magazine party in 2015 at which she was snapped puffing away on a large cigar and clutching a glass of champagne.

‘I do enjoy a cigar. I hadn’t realised I had spilt something on my top. I looked very odd. You’ll never see me smoke a cigar in front of anyone again,’ she said later. ‘It’s not a photograph I’m proud of.’

But despite all her faux pas, she is generally regarded as a safe pair of hands who avoids controversy.

The new Prime Minister pictured in Downing Street in 2019 with her close friend Therese Coffey

The pair enjoy a laugh together at the Women’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley in July

Truss and Coffey have often sought one another’s advice about their ministerial responsibilities. Their friendship deepened after they were elected MPs for the first time in 2010 and they worked closely together on local issues in neighbouring constituencies.

Truss’s star shone brightest: At 39, she became the youngest Cabinet minister when she took on the Environment portfolio under David Cameron. Coffey was made junior Whip, the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder.

Both campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum and both backed Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest. Truss was made Foreign Secretary, while Coffey entered the Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary.

A proud Scouser, Therese Anne Coffey was brought up in Liverpool. The daughter of two teachers, George and Alice, who worked in state schools, she was privately educated at St Mary’s College boarding school in North Wales and remains a practising Catholic to this day.

After sixth form at St Edward’s College in Liverpool (a grammar school that has since turned independent) Coffey read chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford – the same degree course at the same college as her political heroine Margaret Thatcher.

It was Thatcher’s battle with Militant tendency, a Marxist group that had infiltrated Liverpool’s council and driven the city to the edge of bankruptcy in 1985, that converted Coffey to Conservative politics. She was only 14 when she joined the Young Conservatives.

By the time Mrs Thatcher visited Somerville College in 1994, the Tories were languishing in the polls behind Labour’s telegenic leader Tony Blair and many students had to be dragooned into a line-up to greet her. But one student – Coffey – broke ranks and ran noisily across the concourse to shake Mrs Thatcher’s hand.

After university she qualified as a chartered accountant, serving as finance director for Mars and as a finance manager at the BBC – one parallel with Truss, a chartered accountant who became economic director at Cable & Wireless.

While she is popular with Cabinet colleagues, Coffey has a habit of expressing an opinion on policy areas that have nothing to do with her job. While Truss has always been on the Thatcherite wing of the Tory Party, if Coffey has an ideology it is simple pragmatism: ‘What matters is what works.’

In a cut-throat political world, Coffey has shown absolute loyalty to her new boss over many years

A keen football fan, she has been a regular at Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club, and was the first MP to call for a knighthood for legendary former player and manager Kenny Dalglish. He was duly knighted in 2018.

Last month she was at Wembley with Truss – and Nadine Dorries, then Culture Secretary, another Scouser – to cheer on England’s lionesses in their World Cup victory against Germany.

Coffey’s Roman Catholic faith is key to understanding her worldview. She regularly attends mass and voted against same-sex marriage in 2013. She’s met the last two Popes at the Vatican.

While Truss has a husband and two teenage daughters, Coffey has never married.

In 2018, she picked up an ear infection and, despite being prescribed an antiseptic spray by a GP, her condition deteriorated sharply. Within hours of arriving at A&E at a local hospital she was in the operating theatre.

The infection spread to her brain and she was diagnosed with meningitis, staying in hospital for a month. At times, she had difficulty forming sentences and suffered memory loss. When her sister Clare, who runs her parliamentary office, came to visit, she said: ‘I have forgotten what these things on my feet are called.’ She was pointing at her slippers.

She later said she felt she’d had a ‘near miss’ and her recovery had made her enjoy life, adding: ‘You realise that you can be gone tomorrow. Cherish what you have.’

Liz was a regular visitor while her friend was in hospital – and again when she was recuperating at home. Our new Prime Minister clearly cherishes her friendship with her cigar-chomping next-door neighbour – and Coffey, in turn, is delighted by her mate’s success.

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