Conservative conference 2023: health write-up 

Conservative conference 2023: health write-up 

DeHavilland Policy Consultant Sophia Corfield has produced a health round-up from last week's Conservative party conference.

DeHavilland Policy Consultant Sophia Corfield has produced a health round-up from last week’s Conservative party conference.

Key takeaways:

  • Industrial action provided the backdropped to this year’s Conservative conference with the BMA coordinating joint junior doctor and consultant strike action to coincide with Sunak’s first party conference as leader and PM. 
  • Three key announcements emerged from Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s conference speech: a new £30 million fund to speed up NHS technology innovation, an expansion of medical school places, and a consultation on the NHS constitution to address concerns about transgender women using wards intended for biologically female patients.
  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used his keynote to position himself as an “agent of change” by announcing anti-smoking measures.

Health tech:

The health tech agenda featured heavily in fringe events throughout the conference, with Ministers dropping hints on the topic leading up to Tuesday’s conference speech from the Health Secretary.  

During his speech, Steve Barclay unveiled Government plans to introduce a £30 million Health Technology Adoption and Acceleration Fund for the NHS – aimed at speeding up the rollout of new technology. Barclay said the grants will help bring cutting-edge innovation and new treatments to the NHS to cut waiting lists and improve patient care.  

A key element of this announcement centres on how efficiency can be boosted to improve patient outcomes. At subsequent fringe events, Barclay went on to say his absolute focus as Secretary of State is patient outcomes and getting people diagnosed and treated quicker.


Unsurprisingly, tensions between Government and the BMA remained high as an undercurrent theme of the Conservative conference centred on workforce. Tensions were particularly palpable as doctors took to the streets of Manchester for the penultimate day of conference.  

Barclay, who called the coordinated strikes “callous and calculated” in the lead-up to conference, continued this rhetoric during his In Conversation with Policy Exchange. Labelling the strikes “politically inspired”, Barclay reiterated that the Government’s pay offer is final but acquiesced he would be willing to negotiate on non-pay related terms. 

This comment picked up on conversations taking place on workforce elsewhere – with much of the discourse centring on training and retention rather than pay. It was also picked up in the Health Secretary’s keynote when he announced three new NHS medical schools and an extra 200 undergraduate places from next year.  

The announcement plays into the Government’s commitment to double medical school places to 15,000 by 2031 as part of Long-Term Workforce Plan. 

“War on woke”

As part of the so-called war on woke, both Barclay and Science Secretary Michelle Donelan used coordinated messaging in their speeches to bring sex-specific language to their Departments. Barclay said he would launch a consultation on the NHS constitution to address concerns about transgender women using wards intended for biologically female patients. And Donelan announced a review into the use of sex and gender questions in scientific research and statistics, warning the “guiding light” of science is under attack from the “slow creep of wokeism”.  

The announcements point to a wider shift in language of the party. The Financial Times team has listed six Cabinet speeches where trans and gender issues were raised. The article by Lucy Fisher says the move has sparked a backlash among Conservative MPs who are concerned about the party’s deepening politicisation of the subject.


Former DHSC Minister Lord Bethell has been consistent in his advocacy that a shift change is needed in health policy from treatment to prevention, and this conference has been no different. It seems that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has gotten on board with the prevention agenda – using his keynote to announce anti-smoking measures. 

Speaking to conference Mr Sunak said he wants more preventative care and announced he will be bringing a free vote in the Commons on raising smoking by one year every year – so that someone 14 today would never be allowed to buy a cigarette. 

As part of his ambition for a smoke-free Britain, he also said the Government will bring forward measures to restrict vaping.


DWP Secretary Mel Stride added to wider conversations taking place around how health can contribute to economic growth. Commenting on the “unsatisfactory” upward trend of economic inactivity due to long-term sickness, he announced the Government is looking at reforming work assessments.

Life sciences

Life sciences has consistently been earmarked as a key growth sector by the PM and Chancellor. However, a key theme to emerge from conference conversations was the UK’s declining clinical trial landscape. Indeed, many panellists argued it is the cornerstone of the UK achieving its global science superpower status. 

On clinical trials, Barclay highlighted three key areas of concern. The time it takes for clinical trials to get set up, the inability to leverage private capital and the fact that the UK is falling behind other countries.  

Much conversation on the topic centred on the Government commissioned O’Shaughnessy review. It has been widely praised by industry, and the next steps will be crucial in seeing which of its 27 recommendations the Government prioritises.

Waiting lists

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak began the year by setting out his five priorities for Government. But with the NHS waiting lists reaching record highs – Sunak’s promise to bring them down appears to be one of the most unobtainable on the list. While this shortcoming was acknowledged by the PM and Ministers during conference, it was attributed to ongoing, protracted industrial action.  

In spite of this, a new Ipsos UK poll has found that public dissatisfaction has increased significantly with regards to the cutting of NHS waiting lists with 71% saying the Prime Minister is doing a bad job, up from 62% in May. This is a setback for Sunak who is trying to project himself as “agent for change”. 

Indeed, the Conservatives record on the NHS may prove to be its achilles heel at the next election with former health SpAd Richard Sloggett suggesting the Conservatives’ standing has been undermined by their failure to deliver on many of the 2019 health pledges.


More Posts

Want to know more about what we do?

Connect with us

We use this data to ensure you get the information you want. Please read our Privacy Policy to find out more.

Examples of the DeHavilland platform
Scroll to Top

Book a trial

Larnie Hur – Deputy Content Editor

Larnie has worked across journalism, copywriting and content since graduating from City, University London with a degree in Journalism and Mandarin.

She joined DeHavilland in October 2022 to help the DeHavilland and Forefront Adviser teams craft high-quality content to deliver exceptional value to our clients.

Larnie enjoys writing about food and is keenly interested in women’s health issues.

Emmen Ackrim – Policy Executive

Emmen joined DeHavilland in September 2023 after working at Portland Communications and the Labour Party. She previously she read European Politics at The London School of Economics and sits within the Financial Services team.

Reece Davies – Policy Executive

Reece joined DeHavilland in February 2023 after working in Government and public affairs. He studied Political and International Relations at the University of Manchester, before going on to complete a Masters in European Politics. He runs the education, welfare and third sector portfolio, and has a particular interest in higher education policy. 

Martha Loach – Policy Executive

Working within the Public Services Team, Martha leads on the public health and social care portfolio. Prior to joining DeHavilland in July 2023, she was a Programme Manager at a social mobility organisation before venturing into public policy research and events management at GovNet. She read History and Politics at the University of Edinburgh, with a year abroad in Washington DC. Martha enjoys scrutinising the socioeconomic contours of public health challenges and inequalities.

James Wilson – Policy Coordinator

James joined DeHavilland in March 2023 after having read Global Political Economy and International Relations at Leiden University.

He operates within the Corporate Services Team working across the financial services and FMCG and manufacturing portfolios. He particularly enjoys covering the international development sector and watching government policy on political economy and security.

Georgia Richardson – Policy Coordinator

Georgia recently moved from the commercial real estate sector to work on the public services team at DeHavilland, specialising in health and welfare policy. She studied Politics and History at the University of Manchester and particularly enjoys following welfare and housing policy.

Eliza Kehoe – Policy Executive

Eliza joined DeHavilland in June 2023 having previously worked at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in Ireland. Before this, she studied Business, Economics and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. 

Eliza looks after the health portfolio within the wider public services team. She is particularly interested in health inequalities and women’s health.

Lauren Atkins – Policy Consultant

Lauren has worked in political monitoring since she graduated from the University of Bath with a First Class degree in Politics and International Relations. She joined DeHavilland in February 2022 initially covering the Education and Welfare portfolio, before her interest in the Online Safety Bill led her to take on the Tech, Digital and Telecoms portfolio in early 2023.

Molly Stocker – Data Team Leader

Molly is currently the Data Team Leader at Dehavilland. She joined Dehavilland in March 2021 after studying politics at the University of Southampton and working as a data administrator at a trade association. Her interest in data has helped to expand sourcing and she is looking forward to the upcoming constituency boundary changes and how this will effect the next General Election.

Sophia Corfield – Policy Consultant

Sophia joined DeHavilland in June 2022. She heads up DeHavilland’s Public Services Team and leads on the pharmaceutical portfolio. Sophia enjoys following developments in the life sciences sector as its importance continues to grow in political discourse.

Before joining Dehavilland, Sophia graduated from the University of Reading with a first class degree in History and International Relations. After graduating she spent a year working as an Agent and Fundraiser for the Conservative Party.

Josh Dell – Group Editor and Events Lead

Josh helps both DeHavilland and Forefront Advisers’s writers deliver stellar content, while also leading DeHavilland and Forefront’s events programme. When not working in and around politics, he writes about food and wine.

Miles Braslavsky – Senior Policy Consultant 

Miles joined DeHavilland four years ago having received a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Birmingham. He manages DeHavilland’s Corporate Service Team and leads on the financial services portfolio.

He enjoys watching post-Brexit regulatory divergence play out over time having tracked closely the passage of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023.

Arran Russell – Head of Content and Service

Arran has been at DeHavilland since January 2010. As Head of Content and Service he oversees what our clients receive in our monitoring service as well as the content and data on our website. He focuses his time on how we can improve how we support public affairs teams and is always working towards DeHavilland being the best in the business.

Before working at DeHavilland he worked for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, focusing on social mobility. He has a Masters degree in International Political Economy from the University of Manchester and a Bachelors in Contemporary History and Politics from the University of Salford. He has also run two of his own businesses, one coaching football to primary school kids and another investing in property.

Hattie Ireland

Hattie has been at DeHavilland for three years working across the policy and content team, and now leads our infrastructure policy team, specialising in transport policy.

She enjoys being able to work with a range of clients at the forefront of the issues of today, from recovering from the pandemic to efforts to decarbonise the sector.

Before joining DeHavilland, she graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a first class degree in History and Politics where she also spent a year abroad in Washington D.C.

Michael Cameron – Policy Consultant

Michael joined DeHavilland in August 2022 having previously read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Keble College, Oxford.

He looks after the housing, construction, and local government portfolio, within the wider infrastructure team. Within the housing sector, he particularly enjoys watching the ongoing debate about how and where the UK can build more homes.