Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt to chair committee scrutinising government's NHS performance

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been elected chair of an influential Commons committee responsible for scrutinising the government’s NHS and social care performance.

Mr Hunt, the longest serving health secretary and a cabinet minister in both David Cameron and Theresa May’s administration, defeated Tory rivals to head the committee in a secret ballot on Wednesday.

He will now serve as chair of the Health and Social Care committee for the duration of the current parliament, replacing Sarah Wollaston, a former Tory MP who defected to the Lib Dems and lost her seat at the election.

Other high-profile Conservatives won secret ballots to chair other Commons committees, including Tom Tugendhat, Tobias Ellwood, and Greg Clark, who were appointed heads of the foreign affairs, defence, and science bodies respectively.

Senior Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn were appointed heads of the home affairs and exiting the European Union committee last weeks after facing no challenge for the roles from other MPs.

Mr Hunt, who ran against Boris Johnson to replace Ms May as prime minister last summer, said he was “honoured” to be elected chair, adding: “Over nearly a decade in frontline politics, the NHS has always been my greatest political passion.

“For my last six months as health secretary, social care was formally added to my responsibilities but it was not long enough to bring forward reforms or – more crucially – a funding settlement for social care.

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“That is what I will be pressing for, because the NHS will continue to fall over every winter until we fix social care, risking both patient safety and staff morale.”

But the appointment of Mr Hunt, who was at the centre of a long-running row over the introduction of a new junior doctors' contract, drew criticism from some quarters.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “I have no idea how Jeremy Hunt newly elected health and social care select committee chair, can properly scrutinise the government on health policy and practice when much of it will have been his doing.”