James Forsyth

The NHS needs Simon Stevens to stay

The NHS needs Simon Stevens to stay
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens meeting with members of a vaccine team in Newcastle upon Tyne on 29 January. (Photo by Owen Humphreys - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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This morning, Boris Johnson should be calling Simon Stevens, his old Oxford Union rival, and urging him to stay on as head of the NHS for another year. The decision on the new head of the NHS is one of the most consequential decisions that Sajid Javid will make as Health Secretary and asking a newcomer to the brief to make this decision straightaway is unwise, especially as there is such a divide in opinion about who the best candidate for the job is. Stevens continuing would provide some continuity and allow Javid to make a decision once he had time to determine what the health service was most in need of. 

The departure of the Health Secretary during a public health crisis is, to put it mildly, far from ideal – though, it is preferable to a broken reed trying to hang on to the job. But if the head of the NHS was also to leave at the end of next month, which is the current plan, there would be a dangerous lack of experience handling a situation in which NHS capacity is such a key issue.

If Hancock had not resigned, he would have to make a Commons statement tomorrow setting out that restrictions would continue until 19 July. It is not hard to imagine the reaction that him saying this would have elicited in the House both from the opposition and his own benches, let alone the public, which is why he had to resign. 

But if Stevens was to follow Hancock out the door in a matter of weeks, there would be a worrying lack of experience at the top. It would surely be better for Stevens to stay on for another six months or a year and allow the decision on his successor to be taken by a Health Secretary who has had time to size up the situation and the various candidates properly. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.

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