The profile of social care has been given a potential boost with the appointment of Phil Hope as a minister of state for care services in the Department of Health.

He takes over the brief from Ivan Lewis, who championed social care, but as a parliamentary under secretary of state was a more junior minister.

The decision to promote the social care portfolio was a deliberate one by Gordon Brown, made before it was decided who would take over the job.

The appointment is a promotion for Mr Hope who, until the reshuffle last weekend, was minister for the third sector at the Cabinet Office. His third-sector experience is thought to reflect the prime minister's wish to boost the role of social enterprises in healthcare provision.

Social care is an emotive subject, which could be difficult to manage politically. The department is in the middle of a debate on the future shape of care and support, intended to precede a green paper on reform of social care funding.

Elusive consensus

At the Labour Party conference last month, health minister Ben Bradshaw compared the debate required to the contentious pensions review by Adair Turner. He warned that it could be difficult to achieve a consensus in the run-up to an election.

This week, King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson told HSJ he hoped the green paper would include radical reform rather than "tinkering" and that Mr Hope would maintain the momentum so policy changes would "not just get lost amidst both the economic crisis and all the other political demands on the government at the moment".

General Social Care Council chair Sir Rodney Brooke welcomed Mr Hope's appointment. "He's had a huge impact in the third sector from which he comes and I'm quite sure that he will have a similar beneficial effect in social care," he said.

A Number 10 source said: "Reform of social care will be a big part of our pitch to offer families greater security at the next election."

Dignity campaign

Mr Hope said this week: "I have seen some of the great work done in social care in my previous job as minister for the third sector. I am looking forward to learning more and getting stuck into the challenges of this new role. The dignity campaign, the debate on the future of care and support and tackling the stigma associated with mental health problems are all issues with which I'm keen to get involved. Overall, I am keen to push forward radical improvements for people who rely on care services."

Mr Hope is also minister for the East Midlands. His website lists tennis, juggling and computing among his hobbies. Last year he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, but after a successful course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he has been given the all-clear.