This article was published on Saturday, February 19, 2022: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/7f2d843c-90dc-11ec-9569-fea923928840
Many of us have been using our restored freedoms to get away this half-term — or at least before Storm Eunice started brewing. I’ve used the time to hit the road and visit care homes, hospitals, laboratories and vaccination centres all around the country, covering over 1,000 miles.
It’s great to get out of Westminster after spending so much of my early months in this job working on getting us out of this pandemic. I always said, I didn’t just want to be the minister for Covid. I wanted to hear from staff and the public directly about what they are most concerned about as we focus on the huge challenges ahead.
Wherever I went, there was no hiding from the scale of the task in front of us. Whether I was in Clacton-on-Sea, Doncaster, or back in my birthplace of Rochdale, I heard many of the same worries and concerns: the struggle to get an appointment with a GP, the challenge of registering with an NHS dentist and the Covid backlog. It’s clear we still have a long way to go on our road to recovery from this pandemic.
But I’m proud that we’re already making good progress. Last week, I launched our plan to tackle the Covid backlog. To help with that, I am determined to deliver far-reaching reform of the NHS so it is fit for the future and works for everyone who uses it.
I’ve also been proud to see so many of our building projects come to life, including community diagnostic centres, a state-of-the-art eye care unit in Taunton and a new A&E department at Leighton Hospital, built using modern modular construction in an incredible nine months. These investments will mean better, quicker care for patients right at the heart of their community.
But the biggest honour of all was meeting our phenomenal health and care staff. I’ve been blown away, not only by their professionalism and dedication but the incredible diversity that represents the best of modern Britain.
In Romford, I met a care home nurse called Sarah who, like me, used to work at Deutsche Bank. She told me how much she’s learnt in her new work and how rewarding she finds a career in care. “I’d never go back,” she told me.
As I go back to London, I’m left with both a sense of awe at what’s being achieved every day across this great country and a renewed sense of determination to make sure our health and care system works for everyone. I believe 2022 will be a decisive year and I’ll be doing everything I can to keep us on the road to recovery.