COVID-19: Hancock defends timing of new NHS shake-up as he targets tap water and fatty foods

·2-min read

The COVID pandemic has made a re-organisation of the NHS "more not less urgent", Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs, as he unveiled government plans.

Ministers want to better integrate health and social care through measures such as giving the NHS and local councils a duty to collaborate with each other.

And, setting out his proposals for a shake-up of the health system, Mr Hancock said the coronavirus crisis had also highlighted "the importance of preventing ill health in the first place".

The health secretary told the House of Commons that steps for improving the health of the nation would include tackling obesity and the fluoridation of water.

Under the plans unveiled by Mr Hancock, it would be easier for ministers to introduce advertising restrictions and new labelling for high-sugar and high-fat foods.

The government would also seize powers from local councils over the fluoridation of water, which can improve oral health.

At present, around 5.8 million people in England receive fluoridated water.

The government's health plans have been viewed as a reversal of many of the reforms undertaken by former prime minister David Cameron and the then health secretary, Andrew Lansley, in 2012.

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With the NHS still reeling from the COVID pandemic, critics have questioned the timing of Mr Hancock's proposed reforms.

But the health secretary told MPs: "The response to COVID-19 has, in my view, accelerated the pace of collaboration across health and social care, showing what we can do when we work together flexibly, adopting new technology focused on the needs of the patient and setting aside bureaucratic rules."

He added: "The pandemic has made the changes in this White Paper more not less urgent, and it is our role in Parliament to make the legislative changes that are needed.

"There is no better time than now."