By David Partner
Now that the dust has finally begun to settle on last week’s general election victory, attention can turn to how Prime Minister Johnson intends to deliver on his key manifesto commitments; and use the largest Conservative majority since that enjoyed by Margaret Thatcher in 1987.
The Queen’s Speech is the first opportunity for us to understand how the Government will proceed. Proposals to implement legislation on the NHS Long Term Plan, medicines and mental health were all included. In addition, reforms to the visa system will also aim to make it easier to recruit not only front line NHS staff but top scientists and researchers as well.
The intent was clear; the NHS represents a key domestic policy beyond Brexit.
The substantial majority for the Conservatives hands Johnson the freedom to deliver a number of reforms unavailable to his predecessors. During both his election campaign and in his speeches since, he has made much of wanting to repay the trust of voters by delivering on his domestic priorities, including the NHS.
The Queen’s Speech featured several high-profile pieces of legislation to be brought before the House over the course of the next parliament. While the headline announcement on plans to enshrine the NHS’s multi-year financial settlement into law may catch voters’ attention, Bills on medicines and medical devices will prove more of an opportunity for both patients and industry to have their voices heard.
Although not specifically referenced during the speech, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill is likely to lay the foundation for manifesto commitments to reform the Cancer Drugs Fund. The move to an Innovative Medicines Fund may well be welcomed. Many will see it as a potential solution to the protracted negotiations that have delayed patients access to the latest treatments.
The Budget, currently penciled in for February, may give the first indication of the scope of the reforms and whether the Government will go beyond the additional £160m committed in the Conservative manifesto.
Johnson will want to move quickly to end the immediate Brexit uncertainty in January 2020. The announcement that he is to close the Department for Exiting the European Union following Britain’s departure and the immediate introduction of the Withdrawal Bill shows his intent to try and “Get Brexit Done”.
Despite his large majority, the Prime Minister will still need to exercise caution. While threats may no longer come from the opposition, or indeed his own backbenchers, the passage of NHS legislation has never run smoothly and is likely to be turbulent once again.
A new Health and Social Care Select Committee Chair may also be keen to show their teeth early on, following the departure of the widely respected former Chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston. With elections set to take place in January, candidates will be looking to set themselves apart.
The Queen’s Speech shows that the new majority Conservative Government are serious about putting the NHS front and centre of its domestic policy agenda. Following years of uncertainty and coalition governments, industry will now have to adapt to a new form of government; and one in which power is held much closer to the centre than with those before it.