Most immediate priority is getting through pandemic, says Javid

ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan explores whether the government's recent drama has come to an end

Incoming Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said his “most immediate priority” will be getting the country through the coronavirus pandemicHis comments on Sunday come after a stark warning from the British Medical Association’s (BMA) council chairman - Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Mr Javid faces a “baptism of fire” in his new role.

According to Dr Nagpaul, BMA members were “feeling absolutely exhausted after 15 months of this pandemic, many have worked flat-out without breaks”.

He added that “about four in 10 say their mental health is worse than before the pandemic significantly”, with “about one in three saying they’re going to be retiring the next year”.

Listen to our latest podcast covering the coronavirus pandemic:

This came on the back of about 8,500 unfilled doctor vacancies and about 80,000 vacancies in the NHS that have been unfilled, he said.

Dr Nagpaul told Sky News: “This comes at a time when the new Health Secretary was going to see a baptism of fire, he won’t have the luxury of a phased handover, he’ll have to make every day count.”

Mr Javid was appointed health secretary following the resignation of Matt Hancock over breaching Covid social distancing guidelines.

Mr Hancock was caught on CCTV cameras in an embrace with aide Gina Coladangelo and quit amid mounting pressure on Saturday night.

Sajid Javid has said he is honoured to be given the health secretary job Credit: PA

Speaking to the media for the first time since he took over from Matt Hancock on Saturday, Mr Javid said he recognised the “huge responsibility” which faced him.

He also pledged to “do everything I can to make sure that I deliver for this great country”.

“We are still in a pandemic and I want to see that come to an end as soon as possible and that will be my most immediate priority, to see that we can return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible,” he said.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his message had created confusion. The Labour leader referenced a similar statement distributed later, in Mr Javid’s name, by the health department, with the terminology of returning to normal “as soon and as quickly as possible” omitted.

Sajid Javid speaks to the press for the first time since his new appointment

Speaking to the media in north London, Sir Keir said: “What we’ve seen today already I’m afraid is confusion, because the incoming Health Secretary said he wants to open up as quickly as possible, the government’s now rowed back on that.

“I don’t think it’s inspired confidence that already in day one, there’s been the Health Secretary saying his position this morning and then the government rowing back on it.”

Meanwhile, Dr Nagpaul said Mr Javid would need to be “honest” with the public over tackling a backlog of care and negotiate the resources that the NHS needs.

Dr Nagpaul told Sky News there were “a record five plus million patients on waiting lists” which “doesn’t include about 20 million patients who were not seen in outpatient clinics last year”.

Political Correspondent Shehab Khan on what the political world has had to say about Javid's appointment

He added: “Many of those patients will become more ill as time goes on. Many of them have health conditions, which if they’re not treated promptly, will become more serious.

“And what he will need to do is manage that crisis in a way that delivers prioritisation, but also be honest with the public about the length of time it’s going to take.

“And as a health secretary, and a former chancellor, he’s going to need to negotiate the resources that the NHS needs.

“The Government has not costed for the several billions of pounds that are going to be needed to address this backlog.”

Dr Nagpaul said Mr Javid will need to address issues around pay and recruitment, adding health workers wanted to hear that “he understands the workforce”.

“The health service cannot survive without its workforce,” he said.