Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Matt Hancock Health Secretary


SOPHY RIDGE: Now this morning a teenager is fighting for his life in hospital after being stabbed in the chest on a bus in north London yesterday afternoon, just the latest victim in what some are describing as a national emergency. So is enough being done to tackle knife crime? Joining us now is the Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, thank you very much for being with us on the programme this morning. You have written in the Sunday Telegraph today about the role the NHS can play in trying to help tackle knife crime so what are you proposing?

MATT HANCOCK: Well I think all of us have been touched and moved by these awful stories of these attacks, these murders, due to knife crime and I think lots of us look at the children who are involved and the young adults and think they could be our children and this is one of the reasons why it’s really hit a nerve with so many people. The truth is, with knife crime you can only tackle it if lots of different people come together, it isn’t just an issue for the police although obviously they are very important, and so I want the NHS to play its full part in making sure that we rise to this challenge, that everybody feels it is so important to tackle and not least because when these young people, these children arrive in hospital, that is a moment where you can intervene and try to tackle the problem. You know, they were just little kids just a few years ago and the idea that this can only be tackled with the strong arm of the law is wrong. When they arrive in hospital, that’s a moment when you can really make a strong intervention and get people involved to try and turn people’s lives around.

SR: At the same time though, NHS staff are already under immense time pressure, we know about the challenges in the NHS, it’s well documented. Is this really just trying to put a sticking plaster, if you like, over the fact that so many police have been cut since around 2010 and trying to get NHS workers to plug that gap?

MATT HANCOCK: No, it’s about working across the different silos of government if you like. This approach has been tried in Baltimore, which has in the past been one of the most violent cities in the world, and it has worked very effectively to reduce by about 85% the number of people who come back with another knife injury and it’s about getting the right intervention to these children, to these young people at the right moment. Often the moment that you arrive in hospital is obviously a critical moment for anybody and that’s when people are open to changing their behaviour and to responding differently and if you just treat the physical person then you are only treating part of the problem because what we don’t want to do is just patch people up and send them back out into exactly the same environment that led them in the first place. What we want to do is at that moment to intervene, to give them the full support to turn around, to get out of the gangs and to make the changes needed to get away from knife crime.

SR: Okay, now we do of course need to talk about Brexit, the vote is looming next week, already it feels as if the mood music is pretty bleak around Westminster so is it inevitable that the Prime Minister is going to lose the vote on Tuesday?

MATT HANCOCK: No, it’s not inevitable. It’s in the gift of MPs to get on and deliver on Brexit and I very much hope that’s what people will vote for because that’s what the public voted for almost three years ago now. We have the opportunity on Tuesday to be able to deliver on the referendum, I’ll be voting to deliver on the result of the referendum and I very much hope that all of my colleagues will too.

SR: At the same time though of course, people are looking to what will happen if that vote doesn’t go through. Theresa May has promised MPs will get to decide whether or not that will mean leaving with no deal on the 29th March or extending Article 50 so can you just confirm if those votes are definitely going to happen this week and if they are, how you’d vote on the no deal decision?

MATT HANCOCK: Well the Prime Minister has said that, absolutely, but I think the truth is that in the event of this vote on Tuesday not going through, nobody knows what would happen. In everything that followed there would be total uncertainty, that would be the only certainty, so I would appeal very directly to all of my colleagues right across the party and supporters in other parties, people who believe that Brexit should happen, believe we should honour the result of the referendum, I would appeal to every single one of them to vote for this deal, whether or not they like any of the individual details. Benjamin Franklin said of the US Constitution, ‘I vote for this with all its faults’ and I think that’s the approach that we need to take on Tuesday, is to get together and vote to deliver on the result and then we won’t have to have any votes afterwards on what happens next, we can get on. There are so many opportunities in the future, there are so many opportunities that we can seize if we can deliver on the Brexit result and help shape Britain in the 21st century and what we can achieve post-Brexit, instead of constantly having this fog of Brexit descended over our politics as it has been over the last few months.

SR: So hang on a minute, just to be really clear, are you saying then that there is no guarantee that if the government loses the vote on Tuesday, that MPs will then get to decide whether or not to leave with no deal or to extend Article 50?

MATT HANCOCK: No, I’m not saying that at all, that’s what the Prime Minister has committed to. I was making the much broader point that we wouldn’t know what would happen in those votes, we wouldn’t know what the EU would then come back with. In many ways the EU believes it would be in the driving seat in that, if this vote doesn’t go through, which is not where anybody wants to be, certainly not where I want to be. The point I was making was not about the individual votes on Wednesday or Thursday, the point is about the broader politics of uncertainty that we’d have if this vote doesn’t go through and that’s why I’m going to vote for it and why I appeal to all of my colleagues to vote for it, whatever the details, because it’s so important that we deliver on the result of the referendum and it is so important that we can then get on to all the amazing things this country can do and all the other things that we want to be talking about.

SR: Okay, well that’s certainly coming through loud and clear that you are going to be voting in support of the Prime Minister’s deal. What would you vote for though because I know you want to focus of course on the vote on Tuesday but I think it’s not an unreasonable question to ask, after last time when the Prime Minister suffered the biggest defeat of any sitting government when she put the deal to the House, would you vote to leave with no deal or to extend Article 50?

MATT HANCOCK: Well I don’t want those votes to happen and I’m not going to talk about how I’m going to vote in them ahead of time. These negotiations are still ongoing, this weekend there have been negotiations going on in Brussels to try to get more out of the EU to provide assurances in order to get everybody behind winning that vote on Tuesday so I think that’s absolutely … as I say, what we need to concentrate on. What happens after that if the vote goes the wrong way is clearly huge uncertainty but I’m not going to go into how I’m going to vote on any of those votes until those votes are called and I very much hope that they won’t be. And there’s a way that we can all avoid having those votes called and that’s voting for the deal on Tuesday.

SR: You’re talking there about the uncertainty that would happen if the deal doesn’t go through. Of course the NHS is one of the institutions that would be very, very impacted when it comes to whatever happens when it comes to Brexit, so would there be more money for the NHS if the Prime Minister’s deal goes through?

MATT HANCOCK: Well yes, the £20 billion extra that we’re putting into the NHS is happening in any Brexit scenario, that’s committed by the whole government, that’s very important and talking about how we spend that money, what we want from the NHS in the future, building on the long term plan that we published earlier this year, these are the sorts of things that I think we should be talking about. They are the sorts of things that we need to be working on and to deliver for the people who we serve. Delivering on the referendum result is the first step towards getting back to talking about the bread and butter issues that the people really care about on the doorstep so the details of that plan, what we need to do to make sure that people take more responsibility for their own health as well, the prevention agenda and of course dealing with issues like knife crime that we were talking about at the start, these are all the sorts of things that I want our politics to get back to talking about because they are the things that really matter for improving this country and delivering on Brexit and taking the deal that’s on the table and delivering on that is a critical first step to be able to making that process.

SR: The Royal College of Radiologists warned recently that hospitals will have no choice but to prioritise which patients receive cancer treatment if there is no deal so is that a description that you recognise? Will some people maybe have delays to their cancer treatment if there’s no deal?

MATT HANCOCK: No, I heard those remarks and they’re wrong. We have plans in place to ensure that we can get all of the drugs into the country in whatever the Brexit scenario, that includes the very short shelf-life isotopes that are needed for treating cancer so there are plans in place to make sure all that can happen. We have been working very hard to making sure that the NHS is there in all circumstances, in whatever the Brexit vote and of course, in a way the NHS is designed for dealing with problems, with individual crises and individual people’s lives and more broadly, we prepare for all sorts of eventualities in the NHS and I would say that the NHS has really risen to the challenge of the concerns about no deal Brexit. In the event that there were very serious blockages at the border, you know there are 12,300 medicines that we use in England at any one time and we’ve now got a plan for how those medicines can come through even if there are blockages at the border. So this is something we have been doing a lot of work on to make sure that it can happen and now we are confident that if everybody does what they need to do, then that supply of medicines will continue unhindered.

SR: Just finally before you go, when I was researching this interview I couldn’t help but notice how unbelievably competitive you seem to be so in 2005 you got frostbite after trying to play the most northerly game of cricket ever in the Arctic, in 2012 you trained as a jockey and then actually won a race at Newmarket, you entered Parliament in 2010 and now you are Health Secretary so are you so competitive that now you’ve got your eye on the top job? Could you be persuaded?

MATT HANCOCK: [Laughs] No! I could see where this question was going right from the start! No, I think that politics and in particular in government it’s a team effort. I love being Health Secretary, I feel I can make a contribution and I think that it’s really important that we work together. I mean this is one of the reasons why I feel on Brexit we need to come together for this vote on Tuesday but more broadly, I see it’s a great privilege to serve in government and in the Cabinet and I think of the millions of people who rely on the services that I am responsible for everyday and I think it’s a good team effort. People ask me why are you out talking to …

SR: With you as team leader?

MATT HANCOCK: It’s a team effort and I thoroughly enjoy being part of that team.

SR: Okay, Matt Hancock, thank you very much.