Profile: Matt Tee, Department of Health

Matt Tee says he knew what he was ‘letting himself in for’ when he agreed to join the Department of Health’s comms team six months ago.

But he must still have been alarmed by the storm that blew up this week following health secretary Patricia Hewitt's comments that the NHS was having its 'best year ever'.

'It's certainly the biggest pile of cuttings we've had since I arrived,' Tee admits. But 42-year-old is also quick to play down his stressful week.

'My team does this sort of work every day,' he argues. 'It's what we get paid for.'

Indeed, Tee – who is covering Whitehall stalwart Sian Jarvis's maternity leave – has been busy fire-fighting ever since his arrival at the department, which is presently at the heart of the Government's reform agenda.

Since he took the role, the NHS's chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp has stepped down and the DoH faces a potential Health Select Committee inquiry into Primary Care Trusts'
multi-million-pound debts (which have resulted in the loss of frontline jobs).

'At the moment we are going through a lot of noise because people are having to take difficult decisions. But most [job cuts] are concentrated in a small number of trusts,' says Tee.

He is self-assured as he discusses the health service's budget deficit, and this  demeanour lends credibility to speculation that Tee's posting was partly intended as a rescue mission.

'We are not worried about the [potential] inquiry,' he insists. 'We have a clear story to tell, and will be able to say to the committee that we know how we got here and we know how to get out of it. By the end of 2006/07 the NHS will be financially balanced.'

Tee exudes confidence without arrogance, and he does not suffer from the formality of some senior civil servants. In fact, he is an unashamed cockney who was a punk rock fan in his younger days, bleaching his hair while at Leeds University in the early 1980s.

These days, more subdued of style, he cuts a calm figure, despite the media clamour surrounding his department. 'The thing about getting older is that you get a sense of perspective and are less easily knocked by things,' he says.

Now a father-of-three, he claims nothing keeps him awake at night, not even his youngest, a two-year-old son.

Tee cut his teeth in PR as head of comms at England's largest hospital, Guy's and St Thomas's, in the mid-1990s. 'There was a feeling that the [Guy's] job was troubled,' he remembers. 'The woman who had held it before me had gone on maternity leave and not come back.'

He joined shortly before the merger between the two hospitals, which meant closing the A&E department at Guy's, an extremely unpopular move for the local community and politicians alike. But Tee took the challenge head-on and thoroughly enjoyed his first brush with controversial policy.

'At any one time at Guy's and St Thomas's I had a list of things that
could hit the press,' he reveals. 'I would know the line on all of them, and know which doctor I would put up for interview if a particular story was broadcast.'

He cites one of his proudest achievements as the building of his team at the Commission for Health Improvement. From there he entered the private sector, as director of business development at healthcare information provider and DoH supplier Dr Foster, where he will return after the summer when Jarvis resumes her post. ~

Tee's secondment to the DoH from one of its major suppliers did raise questions over a potential conflict of interest. But he is quick to point out that he has no involvement in decisions over procuring services at the DoH.

Media Strategy MD Charles Lewington, a friend who has first-hand experience of Tee in his various professional guises, says: 'Matt is part of the New Labour firmament and it is very helpful for a government communicator to have the support of Number 10.'

All the more so, given Labour's current health problems.

1995 Head of comms, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital
1999 Director of news, Department for Trade and Industry
2000 Head of comms, Commission for Health Improvement
2004 Director of business development, Dr Foster
2006 Interim director of comms, Department of Health

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