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18 August 2022

The Policy Ask with Richard Sloggett: “We don’t need more hospitals, we should modernise those we have”

The former Department for Health special adviser on community care, mental health and unethical food advertising.

By Spotlight

Richard Sloggett is the founder and programme director of the healthcare think tank Future Health. He was previously a senior fellow at the Westminster think tank Policy Exchange and a special adviser to the former secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock.

How do you start your working day?  

Usually with a cup of tea and a skim through the morning news, often followed by a walk with our older miniature dachshund, Betsy, who helps me plan my day – she provides great, considered counsel!

What has been your career high?

Working in the Department of Health and Social Care as a special adviser was a real privilege. The importance and breadth of issues made it both immensely fascinating and challenging.

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What has been the most challenging moment of your career? 

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Trying to get the department’s Prevention in the 2020s green paper out of government in the last days of Theresa May’s premiership. Let’s just say that it involved a fair amount of three-dimensional chess, but we did it in the end.

One month working with Dominic Cummings wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, either…

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?   

There isn’t one path forward, there are many and you don’t always need to know where they lead. Just keep pushing.

Also, try and put yourself in other people’s shoes. The world looks different depending on where you stand and you’ll build better understanding and deeper relationships in doing so.

Which political figure inspires you?

I grew up with the arrival of New Labour and have always found Tony Blair fascinating. He got a Conservative-leaning country to vote Labour three times and never lost an election. Part of my PhD studies is looking at his health reforms and it is notable how he prioritised grown-up public sector reform while in office – something we really need the government to start taking seriously again.

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right? 

The government’s work with the life sciences sector through Brexit and Covid has been excellent and those on both sides deserve huge credit. If this partnership continues to be prioritised and invested in then we are going to see the UK at the front of exciting new discoveries for treatments in important areas such as cancer and dementia.

And what policy should the UK government ditch?  

The aim to create 40 new hospitals. We don’t need more hospitals (if that is what they even are). We should modernise those we have, but we must focus more on primary care and care in the community. We need to have a grown-up conversation with the public about how and where healthcare will be delivered in future.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to? 

The new Mental Health Act. It tackles a long-standing set of injustices and gives people more dignity and say in their care and treatment.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

The government should adopt the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Economics of Health For All framework. This sees health and the economy as interdependent and health as a critical economic sector in its own right. If we’ve learnt anything from Covid it is that health is wealth.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?  

We should be doing a lot more to tackle obesity. New laws are needed to stop the food industry aggressively marketing and targeting unhealthy products at children. I’d also go after gambling companies and their role in sport. It’s ridiculous to have betting companies on football shirts and to have wall-to-wall betting ads during the commercial breaks.

[See also: The Conservatives have made childcare unavailable and unaffordable]