• Jeremy Hunt asks Theresa May for shake up of honours system
  • Health secretary wants to reward NHS leaders who improve failing trusts and patient care
  • System recognises people who achieve success in “relatively safe environments”

Jeremy Hunt has written to the prime minister calling for an overhaul of the honours system to help reward leaders who take on challenged NHS trusts, HSJ has been told.

The health and social care secretary is believed to be frustrated that the honours system, which rewards people with knighthoods, damehoods and other honours for their public service, is failing to recognise key players in the NHS who do more to turnaround failing trusts and improve patient care.


Jackie Daniel was made a dame in the new year’s honours

The letter is believed to have been sent to Theresa May in the last week. HSJ understands it included a list of senior NHS figures Mr Hunt believes are worthy of honours but were unlikely to receive them under the current system.

A source told HSJ the letter was designed to express Mr Hunt’s view that the honours system was “broken” and rewarded people who had chosen safe jobs rather than risktakers who face up to challenges of poor patient care and performance.

They said Mr Hunt believes the honours committee is unwilling to recognise some leaders. The source said the letter clearly warned Ms May that without “decisive action” the NHS would continue to “feather its own nest” by rewarding people who reached the top of their careers by choosing “relatively safe environments”.

Mr Hunt is believed to have highlighted academic careers as getting more recognition than those involved in improving patient care.

His proposals were said to include requiring the independent health honours committee to reserve half of its awards for leaders involved in turning around health services.

The source also said Mr Hunt wanted to double the number of knighthoods and damehoods going to NHS leaders in each of the next five years.

Recent recipients of honours include Dame Jackie Daniel, who led the transformation at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, and Sir Andrew Morris who turned around Wexham Park Hospital when it was taken over by Frimley Health FT.