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The Department of Health headquarters in Whitehall

The Department of Health (DH) is a department of the United Kingdom government but with responsibility for government policy for Englandmarker alone on health, social care and the National Health Service (NHS). It is led by the Secretary of State for Health with two Ministers of State and three Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State.

The DH carries out some of its work through arm's length bodies, including non-departmental public bodies and executive agencies such as the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (NHS PASA) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

In the other countries of the United Kingdom, responsibility for health and the management of their National Health Services falls under the jurisdiction of the devolved governments, namely:


The Department of Health was formally created in 1988, through The Transfer of Functions (Health and Social Security) Order 1988.Like many others, the department with responsibility for the nation's health has had different names and included other functions over time.

In the 19th century, several bodies were formed for specific consultative duties and dissolved when they were no longer required. There were two incarnations of the Board of Health (in 1805 and 1831) and a General Board of Health (1854 to 1858) that reported directly into the Privy Council. Responsibility for health issues was also at times, and in part, vested in local health boards and, with the emergence of modern local government, with the Local Government Act Office, part of the Home Office. In the early part of the 20th century, medical assistance was provided through National Health Insurance Commissions.

The first body which could be called a department of government was the Ministry of Health, created in 1919 through the Ministry of Health Act, consolidating under a single authority the medical and public health functions of central government. The co-ordination of local medical services was expanded in connection with emergency and wartime services, from 1935 to 1945, and these developments culminated in the establishment of the NHS in 1948.

In 1968, the Ministry of Health was dissolved and its functions transferred (along with those of the similarly dissolved Ministry of Social Security) to the newly created Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS). Twenty years later, these functions were split back into two government departments, forming the Department of Social Security (DSS) and the current Department of Health.


The official headquarters and Ministerial offices are in Richmond House, Whitehallmarker, Londonmarker. Many staff are in Skipton Housemarker, Elephant and Castlemarker, London and were formerly in Alexander Fleming Housemarker and Hannibal Housemarker there. There are also many staff based in Quarry Housemarker in Leedsmarker, in Wellington House near Waterloo stationmarker in Londonmarker and in New King's Beam House near Blackfriars Bridgemarker.

Ministerial team

The current ministers at the DH are:.

Shadow Secretaries

The Conservative Party's Shadow Secretary of State is Andrew Lansley MP. The Liberal Democrat spokesman is Norman Lamb MP.

Permanent Secretary

The Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health is Hugh Taylor. Following the resignation of the previous Permanent Secretary Sir Nigel Crisp in March 2006 a separate post of Chief Executive of the NHS has been recreated, this is held by David Nicholson.

Previous permanent secretaries:

Chief professional officers

The department has six chief professional officers who provide it with expert knowledge and also advise the Ministers, other government departments and the Prime Minister. The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Nursing Officer are also directors of the department's board.

  • Chief Medical Officer for England (CMO) — Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, appointed in 1998.
  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) — Christine Beasley CBE, appointed in 2004.
  • Chief Dental Officer for England (CDO) — Barry Cockcroft, appointed in 2006.
  • Chief Health Professions Officer (CHPO) — Karen Middleton, appointed in 2007.
  • Chief Pharmaceutical Officer — Dr Keith William Ridge, appointed in 2006.
  • Chief Scientific Officer — Professor Sue Hill, appointed in 2002.


Introduction of user charges for NHS services

The publication of Professor Lord Darzi's review of the NHS prompted criticism of the government and the department of health for paving the way for user charging, and so contradicting the NHS Plan 2000 which stated that "user charges are unfair and inequitable in they increase the proportion of funding from the unhealthy, old and poor compared with the healthy, young and wealthy". The report also introduces the concept of 'personal budgets'.

Fragmentation of NHS services

Darzi's report splits previously integrated services into 'core', 'additional' and 'enhanced' services, which critics say will lead to abandoning the open-ended duty of care on which the NHS was founded.

"Superbugs" and PFI

Fatal outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria ("superbugs"), such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile, in NHS hospitals has led to criticism of the DH's decision to outsource cleaning via private finance initiative contracts as "cutting corners on cleaning".

A "Deep Clean" initiative announced by the Department of Health was criticised by infection control experts and by the Lancet as a gimmick which failed to address the causes of in-hospital infections, by the firms doing the work as an attempt to avoid paying for regular better cleaning, and by NHS managers as ineffective.

It also attracted criticism because only a quarter of the £60m funding for the scheme actually went to hospitals, and because a number of hospitals missed the completion target, and as of June 2008 one in four NHS trusts was not meeting the government's standards on hygiene.


Its advice to primary care on prescribing drugs such as proton pump inhibitors has been criticised as wasteful.

Medical Training

The DH has attracted criticism for its disastrous handling of the outcome of Modernising Medical Careers, in particular in the changes it made to the specialist training of doctors and MTAS. These changes left "29,193 junior doctors from the UK and overseas... chasing 15,600 posts..." and resulted in accusations that the DH had broken the law by refusing to reveal scores to candidates. Ultimately there was a judicial review and a boycott of the system by senior doctors across the country. MTAS was eventually scrapped and Patricia Hewitt, the then Secretary of State for Health, resigned following accusations that she had lied to the House of Commonsmarker over the system. Even after the abolition of MTAS, anger among the medical profession was widespread , with the British Medical Association commenting of the DH response that "Not only is this response too late, it does not go far enough".

The official government inquiry into MMC recommended that the responsibility for medical training be removed from the DH.

See also


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