The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Skidmore out, Argar in

There’s been yet another shuffle around of ministers at the Department of Health and Social Care. This time, Edward Argar, MP for Charnwood in Leicestershire, has replaced Chris Skidmore as health minister.

Mr Skidmore’s tenure in the role has been brief, having only arrived shortly after Boris Johnson’s move into number 10 in July. Mr Argar will be the fourth person to take on the role since the department added “and Social Care” to its title in January 2018. 

Although he may have come from the Ministry of Justice, Mr Argar does have some experience with health policy. Part of his former brief as a junior minister was offender health (at least until MoJ did its own reshuffle of portfolios after Lucy Frazer returned to the department as prisons minister following a two-month stint as solicitor general). 

The Leicestershire MP also appears to have a soft spot for dementia and mental healthcare, as per his 2015 maiden speech in Parliament, when he said: “While we have made significant progress in recent years, we still need to go further in vigorously and energetically focusing on improving dementia care and mental health provision; both are causes on which I will be vocal.”

Mr Skidmore, on the other hand, is returning to the post he held before his summer holiday at the DHSC – universities, science, research and innovation minister, a joint role across the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The role was back up for grabs after Mr Johnson’s brother Jo resigned late last week

We can only imagine what fresh ministerial upheaval Victoria Street will enjoy in the weeks and months to come.

Second time lucky

Doctors and nurses could be allowed to set their own level of pension contributions each year, as part of the government’s latest bid to tackle the pension crisis gripping the NHS’ workforce.

The measures form part of the government’s second attempt to consult on what flexibilities could be offered to clinicians who are finding themselves caught out by pension tax rules. It comes amid reports of staff refusing to take on extra work, reducing hours or retiring early in efforts to stop themselves being landed with a hefty tax bill.

Alongside allowing clinicians to pick their own level of pension contributions in 10 per cent increments (such as 30, 50, 70 or 100 per cent of the full accrual level), other proposals included:

  • An option to alter pension contributions, including topping up pensions, towards the end of the tax year, when the individual has a clearer idea of their tax situation; and
  • Individuals who receive a large pensionable pay rise being able to phase, over several years, the amount by which their new pay contributes to their pension.

This is the second time government has attempted to consult on the issue this year. In initial proposals under Theresa May, now dropped, a 50:50 option was put forward, which would allow clinicians to halve their pension contributions in exchange for halving the rate of pension growth. The 50:50 model was criticised as being “not fit-for-purpose” and “a paycut” which was “bound to fail”

Danny Mortimer, NHS Employers’ chief executive, said the most recent proposals “helpfully acknowledge” the need for more flexible schemes to help clinicians manage their pension growth.