Mike O’Brien, the MP for North Warwickshire, has become the latest minister to take responsibility for NHS Connecting for Health and NHS IT.
O’Brien, a former solicitor general, was minister for pension reform at the Department of Work and Pensions before Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s reshuffle this weekend. He replaces Ben Bradshaw, who left the Department of Health to become culture secretary.
O’Brien arrives at the DH at a difficult time for NHS Connecting for Health and NHS IT. The agency is struggling to deliver the Lorenzo and Cerner Millennium patient record systems to the health service and is seeing some of its other programmes curtailed by the worsening financial climate.
However, he will not be able to give his full attention to the subject. As minister of state for health services, he is also taking charge of a number of other big and difficult NHS issues, such as finance, performance management and efficiency, as well as major planks of the Darzi reform programme.
Bradshaw took charge of the same portfolio in July 2007, replacing Lord Hunt of King’s Heath after his second spell in charge of NHS IT. Lord Hunt, who resigned over the Iraq war but later returned to government, is now a minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and deputy leader of the House of Lords.
O’Brien, meanwhile, is one of three new faces at the DH. Andy Burnham was announced as health secretary last week, while Gillian Merron has joined the junior ministerial team as minister of state for public health.
On his website, O’Brien makes much of his working class background, noting that his father “worked on the railway” and his mother was a school dinner lady. He says he went into Labour politics when “the Conservatives put up the rent on our council house and my parents worried about it.”
He trained as a lawyer and taught law before entering Parliament in 1992, where he made his name working on police and anti-social behaviour issues. More recently, he has been a Foreign Office minister, energy minister, solicitor general, and pensions minister.