• Hancock drops predecessor’s weekly meetings with system leaders
  • Secretary of state is handing more control to junior ministers
  • NHS Improvement and NHS England will now take the lead on safety policy in the NHS long term plan, with DHSC stepping back

New health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has axed the Monday meetings with NHS leaders instigated by his predecessor Jeremy Hunt as part of an overhaul at the top of the Department of Health and Social Care.

HSJ has learned Mr Hancock intends to continue meeting regularly with NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and NHS Improvement CEO Ian Dalton but does not feel the weekly meetings – where system leaders were called together to update Mr Hunt on operational issues – are the most effective way to carry out his role.

Instead Mr Hancock has made clear he intends to relinquish control of some key policy areas to his junior ministers, who will become more central to the DHSC’s operations than was the case under Mr Hunt.

The Monday meetings attracted widespread interest and discussion among NHS leaders who could be called to attend at short notice and made to wait while meetings overran. They became a totemic example of Mr Hunt’s approach to his record tenure as secretary of state.

Interviewed by former Financial Times public policy editor Nick Timmins for the latter’s recent history of the NHS since 2012, Mr Hunt said the meetings were crucial in getting the NHS to establish “a common NHS position” on important issues.

He added: “On things like preparing for winter, I am not sure you can do those things, with the legal structures as they are, without having some way of bringing people together. I am quite confident that the civil service would brief any successor of mine that it is essential to have those Monday meetings.”

Under Mr Hunt the Monday meetings usually included sessions on performance management; care quality and safety; mental health; transformation; social care; finance and efficiency; and workforce. Earlier this year, on the day Mr Hunt became the longest serving senior health minister, HSJ attended a series of the Monday meetings.

In contrast Mr Hancock has told civil servants he will hold meetings focused on his priority areas of workforce, technology and prevention. He will also be chairing a regular winter meeting as the NHS gears up to cope with pressures later this year.

HSJ has also learned Mr Hancock has relinquished control over the patient safety aspects of the forthcoming long term NHS plan. Under Jeremy Hunt, who made his tenure at the DHSC about improving safety, the DHSC was leading on this aspect of the plan. However, NHS England and NHS Improvement have now been given that responsibility, while Mr Hancock focusses the department’s input into the plan on his three priority areas.