Leading doctors have welcomed Downing Street’s decision to merge health and social care into one political portfolio.
The Royal College of GPs said the state of social care “profoundly” impacts the NHS.
Downing Street announced that Jeremy Hunt’s job title has changed from Health Secretary to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Commenting on the move, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “This is a critical role at a critical time for general practice and the wider NHS and we will continue to work constructively with Jeremy Hunt in his expanded role as Secretary of State for both health and social care in England.
“We support the bringing together of health and social care into the portfolio of one minister as we recognise that what happens to patients in the NHS is profoundly impacted by the state of social care.”
The reappointment comes just a week after Mr Hunt was forced to apologise to patients whose appointments and operations had been delayed as a result of winter pressures in the NHS in England.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, urged the Health and Social Care Secretary to engage more with frontline staff about the “key issues” facing the NHS.
“We want to see much better engagement with clinicians and we would be happy to meet with Mr Hunt at any time to discuss the key issues,” he said.
The move could signal that Mr Hunt may take the lead for the Government’s anticipated green paper on care and support for older people, which is expected by the summer.
Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, who was health minister with responsibility for social care during the coalition government, questioned whether the new title was just “window dressing”.
He told the Press Association: “The Department of Health has always had policy responsibility for social care.
“If they are not doing anything about the funding of social care then nothing has changed in substance.
“It could just be window dressing.”
Meanwhile, Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Social care faces an annual funding gap of £2.3 billion by 2020.
“It is vital that adult social care is placed on an equal footing to the NHS so the Government needs to follow up today’s encouraging step with action to inject further much-needed funding into social care in the final Local Government Finance Settlement.
“This is the best way to ensure people get the care and support they deserve and to alleviate the pressure on the NHS.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “The addition of social care to the Secretary of State for Health’s title is a welcome and long overdue recognition of the interdependence of health and social care provision and the importance of social care in our society.
“It would be appropriate for the department also now to be renamed.”
Glen Garrod, vice president of the Association for the Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), said: “This is a welcome recognition of the importance of social care.
“Adass has long called for a more coherent approach towards health and social care, and ensuring that the responsible Government department does this is an essential first step.”
A department spokeswoman said: “From today the department will be renamed Department of Health and Social Care, taking on responsibility for the forthcoming social care green paper which will set out the Government’s proposals to improve care and support for older people and tackle the challenge of an ageing population.
“All costs associated with changing the department’s name will be kept to a minimum.”