Liz Truss’ new Health Secretary Therese Coffey today admitted that she is ‘no role model’ when it comes to her own body when questioned over her own drinking habits, cigar smoking and weight.
Ms Coffey, described as the Prime Minister’s trusted lieutenant and confidant, was famously pictured clutching a glass of fizz with a cigar in her mouth while partying with fellow MPs.
In an interview with LBC breakfast supremo Nick Ferrari on her first day in the job, interrupted briefly by her Dr Dre iPhone alarm, he asked: ‘As someone who likes a cigar, enjoys the odd noggin – as do – and let’s be candid, you and I could possibly do with losing a pound or two… you are not necessarily the best example to be the Secretary of State for Health. Therese Coffey, how would you respond?’.
The cabinet minister smiled wryly and said: ‘My focus is on how we deliver for patients and I appreciate I may not be the role model, but I am sure that the Chief Medical Officer and others will continue to be role models in that regard and I will do my best as well’.
As the photo of her smoking and drinking at the Spectator Summer Party in 2016 was trending on Twitter, she added: ‘I will probably get all sorts of comments, Nick, but nevertheless, on a more serious matter, I have been a patient of the NHS too and have had some brilliant experiences and I have had some experiences where it could have been better. My focus is on patients and that is what I will be making sure the department focuses on too.’
The new Health Secretary, who describes herself as a former smoker, said. ‘I didn’t look at social media last night, I don’t tend to look at social media,’ she said, adding that such comments do not worry her.
There was support for Ms Coffey on social media – from people who dismissed concerns about her lifestyle.
One said: ‘Stop slagging off Therese Coffey for being fat. Most of the British population is fat. I don’t care how she looks (I really like her hair and her scarves as it happens) but she has a very difficult job to do and let’s hope she can succeed’. Another tweeted: ‘Give Coffey a break. Seriously though, someone who is overweight, smokes fat cigars and boozes a fair bit is probably in good place to know more about health systems! Personally I always like it when MPs know how to live a little I don’t want a bunch of squares in charge’.
Therese Coffey has never lived down a picture taken at a Spectator magazine party in 2015 at which she was snapped puffing away on a large cigar and clutching a glass of champagne
Therese Coffey’s was left laughing when phone alarm went off on LBC today – playing Dr Dre
She and Liz Truss have been friends since their student politics days and are known by some colleagues as ‘Yin and Yang’. Above: The pair are seen during a visit to a Suffolk farm in 2016
Liz Truss (left) and Therese Coffey (middle) sing the national anthem – next to then culture secretary Nadine Dorries (right) before the Women’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley in July
Despite being more than 20 years old, Still D.R.E. is still a popular rap song and recently featured at the end of the Super Bowl LVI halftime show in February.
Nick Ferrari and Therese Coffey: The full exchange amid alarm
- NICK FERRARI – ‘Can I ask you a question about your residences? Oh, are you alright over there, have you got a phone ringing, are you OK?’
- THERESE COFFEY – ‘I’ve just realised my alarm is going off on my phone, I apologise.’
- FERRARI – ‘Oh my goodness, what is the alarm for?’
- OFFEY – ‘You’re getting a bit of Dr Dre. It’s just an 8am alarm, sorry, I’ll just turn that off.’
- FERRARI – ‘It is Dr Dre, is it? That’s fantastic. Well, Dr Coffey with Dr Dre as the Health Secretary, it just gets better and better.’
The music video for the 1999 hit song ‘Still D.R.E.’ which featured Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg
Later Ms Coffey and Nick Ferrari were both left laughing when the 8am alarm sounded with the 1999 hit ‘Still D.R.E.’ which also featured Snoop Dogg.
The music video for the track, which hit number 6 in the UK charts and appeared on Dr Dre’s second studio album ‘2001’, has racked up more than one billion views.
Mr Ferrari had begun by asking her a ‘question about your residences’ but stopped when he realised Ms Coffey’s phone was going off and asked: ‘Are you OK?’
The Health Secretary said listeners were ‘getting a bit of Dr Dre’, quickly apologised and said ‘sorry, I’ll just turn that off’ – but she and Mr Ferrari both saw the funny side.
And the breakfast presenter added: ‘It is Dr Dre, is it? That’s fantastic. Well, Dr Coffey with Dr Dre as the Health Secretary, it just gets better and better.’
Also during the interview, Ms Coffey conceded that the NHS needs quick improvement and said she hopes doctors will ‘continue to put their patients first’, when asked about potential strikes.
She said: ‘I’m also very conscious that we need to make improvements and we need to make them quickly.’
Asked how she would avert a junior doctor strike, Ms Coffey said: ‘I hope of course that people will continue to put their patients first.’
She added: ‘I think people will be receiving a significant package that’s already been agreed, and that’s through the independent pay review body. We’ve accepted that recommendation.
Liz Truss and Therese Coffey leave Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting last November
‘More broadly, the Government has been investing in cost-of-living payments.’
Therese Coffey inherits an NHS ‘in crisis’
Therese Coffey has inherited an NHS and social care system ‘in crisis’, health leaders have said.
Experts from across the sector have welcomed Ms Coffey to her new role as Health Secretary but warned that she has taken on the job during a challenging period for the health service.
As well as being appointed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for England, Ms Coffey is stepping up to become Liz Truss’s second-in-command as Deputy Prime Minister.
Experts have said that they hope the dual role shows that the Government is taking the challenges facing the health service ‘seriously’. They also welcomed the indication from the new Prime Minister that she would ‘put our health service on a firm footing’.
Health leaders said the pressing items in Ms Coffey’s in-tray will include:
- A record waiting list;
- Problems in urgent and emergency care;
- Soaring numbers of patients stuck in hospital due to ‘delayed discharges’;
- A crisis in dentistry services with many struggling to access care;
- Challenges facing mental health, community, acute and ambulance services;
- Worries over winter pressures including further waves of Covid-19 and additional pressures from flu;
- Concerns over how the cost of living crisis will impact the health service;
- Possibility of health and care staff taking industrial action over pay.
In another interview today, Ms Coffey made clear that patients will not be charged for GP appointments.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I will not be charging people to go and see their GP.’
Asked about Prime Minister Liz Truss’s plan to divert funds earmarked for the NHS to social care, Ms Coffey said: ‘People are clear that, within the system, there are people currently in hospital who don’t need to be in hospital, do need continuing care, but not necessarily in our acute hospitals.
‘That’s why making sure that we help patients get to the right place where they need to be will open up the opportunity and capacity for more people to be treated in our acute hospitals.’
Asked about past comments linked to Miss Truss on using private companies to run hospitals, Ms Coffey said: ‘I think we need to use all the capacity that there is in the healthcare system in this country today.’
Ms Coffey takes over as Health Secretary from Steve Barclay who moves to the backbenches after a brief time in the role following Sajid Javid’s resignation in June this year. Mr Javid in turn replaced Matt Hancock after he resigned for breaching pandemic rules.
Regarded as Miss Truss’s closest friend at Westminster, Ms Coffey has landed a central role in the new Prime Minister’s administration.
As well as being appointed as Health and Social Care Secretary, Ms Coffey is stepping up to become Ms Truss’s second-in-command as Deputy Prime Minister.
The 50-year-old former work and pensions secretary was widely expected to be rewarded with a key job in the Cabinet, having thrown her weight behind Ms Truss’s Tory leadership bid early on.
The pair’s alliance is thought to stretch back to their post-university politics days, and was cemented when they were both elected as MPs of near-neighbouring eastern England constituencies in 2010.
Aside from geographic vicinity, with Ms Coffey’s Suffolk Coastal patch almost bordering Ms Truss’s South West Norfolk seat, they have a state education in common, as well as studies at Oxford, though several years apart.
Liz Truss and Therese Coffey attend a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in September 10
Another thing the duo share is their love of karaoke, with Ms Coffey known to host boozy Westminster singalongs for MPs and staff.
New Health Secretary will not seek to ‘undo’ abortion laws
New Health Secretary Therese Coffey has said she will not seek to ‘undo any aspects of abortion laws’ despite her views on the subject.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who is a Catholic, voted against same-sex marriage in 2013 and extending abortion rights in Northern Ireland.
She also voted against making at-home abortion pills, introduced during the pandemic, permanently available in England and Wales.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which offers NHS-funded abortions, has said her record on abortion rights is ‘deeply concerning’.
Asked on BBC Breakfast about her views, Ms Coffey said access to abortions would continue, adding that her responsibility was for what happens in England.
Regarding the vote on at-home pills, she said: ‘Well, I’m a democrat and the vote was won in Parliament by people who wanted to make that permanent.
‘There are many other people who are exceptionally pro-abortion who did not want that to happen. However, Parliament voted and that happened and the regulations are already in place.’
Asked about her stance on abortion on Sky News, she said: ‘I’m conscious I have voted against abortion laws.
‘What I will say is I’m the complete democrat and that is done, so it’s not that I’m seeking to undo any aspects of abortion laws.’
She came under fire when a video of her and welfare minister Will Quince singing (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life at the Conservative Party conference surfaced in 2021.
Labour called the timing of the performance, as the £20-a-week universal credit uplift was being slashed, ‘an insult and a disgrace’.
She also drew criticism for defending Boris Johnson on media rounds, including denying his knowledge of harassment allegations against Chris Pincher before he was appointed deputy chief whip.
Apart from broadcast appearances and leading the vocals at karaoke sessions, Ms Coffey is said to be a private person.
As well as being a music and football enthusiast – she is a Liverpool fan – Ms Coffey reportedly enjoys a cigar.
Born in 1971 in Lancashire, Ms Coffey went to school in Liverpool before heading to Oxford and then to University College London to do a PhD in chemistry.
Before entering politics, she worked in finance for confectionery giant Mars and on the corporate side of the BBC.
She made two failed attempts to enter the European Parliament before securing the safe Tory Suffolk Coastal seat in 2010.
A Catholic, Ms Coffey voted against same-sex marriage and extending abortion rights in Northern Ireland.
She landed her first government role in 2012, holding various posts including junior minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Becoming Deputy Prime Minister is quite a promotion for Ms Coffey, who only joined the Cabinet when she was appointed work and pensions secretary by Mr Johnson in September 2019.
At the time, she celebrated the moment by tweeting a photo of herself and Ms Truss, saying: ‘I was delighted to attend my first Cabinet meeting at No 10 with my mate @trussliz showing me the ropes’.
The new Prime Minister clearly has confidence that her long-time ally, with her reputation for a strong work ethic and attention to detail, can handle the brief and help her steer the Downing Street ship through choppy waters.
Replacing Dominic Raab as Deputy PM, Ms Coffey’s primary duties are to stand in at Prime Minister’s Questions and chair the Cabinet if Ms Truss is absent.
As Health Secretary, she will face the challenge of sorting a plan for the NHS without the guarantee of extra funds from the soon-to-be-canned national insurance hike.