Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health

Alan Johnson has had a good year. Crucially, his easygoing charm has rebuilt confidence in the government among the NHS workforce after the turbulent times of Patricia Hewitt, while his people, presentation and political skills have similarly helped defuse public resentment over issues such as targets and service closures.

This has not blunted his determination to take on the British Medical Association over its reluctance to extend GPs’ hours, however. The BMA was forced to back down and surgeries are now staying open longer across the country.

As well as making a point of supporting work to tackle domestic violence, he has developed a passion for addressing health inequalities, a major issue for his Hull constituency.

This has undoubtedly helped push inequalities as a priority in the regional and local plans under the Darzi review, but what long term impact this will have on the chasms in life chances around the country is impossible to judge.

Mr Johnson’s political antennae helped the government realise it was in an untenable position over the ban on top up payments for what mass media insists on calling life saving drugs. He told his civil servants to put away their briefing papers on why reform was impossible and ordered cancer czar Mike Richards (5) to review the policy.

Whether it is because he loves the DH or is horrified by the alternatives, Mr Johnson now appears much happier with his portfolio than a year ago and is apparently keen to stay.