You always remember when a prime minister calls you to ask you to take on a new role, and you remember the reaction of your loved ones, too. My mum was delighted — like many Asian mothers she wanted at least one of her five sons to be a doctor and she was thrilled that I would be, as she put it, ‘working in healthcare’ after all these years. My wife was concerned about the pressures of the role and what it might mean for our family. And my daughter was worried that I might not look the pinnacle of health walking through the famous Downing Street door, due to my limp after an unfortunate slip during ‘walk your children to school week’.
Although it’s been a real tonic to spend more quality time with my family after several intense years in government, I have to admit it was also frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines at this important time for the nation. After a few months, I was bouncing off the walls and, much to my relief (and theirs), I was able to channel this energy into my work with Harvard University on pandemics. This included speaking to world leaders and leading scientists, looking at how governments can better respond to emerging threats. It’s a real honour to have the opportunity to take forward what I’ve learnt and deal with difficult decisions in real-time rather than in the abstract. While I didn’t hesitate to accept the role of Health Secretary, I’m acutely aware of the scale of the challenge we face. I decided from the outset to do everything I can to be straight with people about what lies ahead — the huge simultaneous tasks of tackling the NHS backlog, making the vital reforms we all know are needed to social care, and, of course, getting us out of this pandemic.