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An appointment with the bank manager

Who is Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary presiding over the first ever nurses' strike?

Nominative determinism in politics is not something to worry unduly about, even if you reside in the constituency of Hammersmith where your MP is Andy Slaughter. But there is something grimly amusing, in this cash-straitened times, about our new Health Secretary being called Steve Barclay.

Originally appointed as a stop-gap, during the last days of Boris Johnson’s government, Mr Barclay’s return was both surprising and almost completely unheralded. But after the brief and noisy tenure of Therese Coffey, and her ‘interesting’ views on antibiotics, perhaps a period of grey bank manager vibes would not be unwelcome in the NHS.

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Appropriately his reputation is of being parsomonious in the extreme. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury he gained a reputation for not looking kindly on NHS requests for funds. According to the journalist Isabel Hardman, who is currently writing a history of the NHS, this extended to initially not signing off on the COVID vaccination programme, on the grounds of value for money.

So NHS managers will probably not welcome his appointment, but at a time when efficiency savings will be demanded across the board, his eye for detail may be appreciated. He is rumoured to have already identified a tranche of potential savings from updating various hospitals’ energy sources.

He may need more than that. NHS England has already projected a £7bn deficit on its spending next year; and inflation, pay demands and a post-COVID hangover may worsen matters. The grey man will need all his powers to keep the NHS in the black.