Jeremy Hunt’s rose-tinted spectacles

Jeremy Hunt has declared himself the most pro-GP Health Secretary in 50 years. A bemusing claim.

David Wrigley
13 August 2013

Image: DCMS. Some rights reserved.

I heard a most astonishing piece of news this week. Jeremy Hunt has announced that he is “the most pro-General Practice Secretary of State for 50 years”.

I am not sure which parallel universe Mr Hunt is living in. I haven’t seen one shred of evidence that he is pro-GP since he was appointed Secretary of State for Health last September. In fact amongst my fellow GPs he must be one of the most unpopular health ministers in recent times – second only to Andrew Lansley maybe.

During his first year in office at Richmond House Jeremy Hunt has blamed almost every worker in the NHS for the perceived ills of the NHS without looking a little closer to home.

The 111 debacle is a case in point. The BMA spent over a year warning the Department of Health of the potential problems with the new telephone service, and urged him to delay its roll-out. Hunt ignored the doctors and rushed ahead with the launch - over Easter bank holiday weekend no less, despite being warned this was the worst possible timing. The service immediately crashed under the pressure of calls. It had to call in emergency help from GPs who were already working in out of hours services. Patients’ lives were put at risk and delays in answering calls meant many suffered unnecessarily. Did Hunt own up to his own failings? What about the cloth ears at the Department of Health? No, Hunt decided to blame the 111 service itself saying they hadn’t prepared themselves properly.

When Sir Bruce Keogh reported into investigations into 14 Trusts with higher than average mortality rates, Hunt used this to try and point score over the Labour Party and deflect blame away from himself and his department. Ever since the Francis report into mid-Staffordshire, Hunt has missed no opportunity to aim his Richmond House cross-hairs at frontline NHS doctors and nurses. Meanwhile Hunt criticised NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson with all the force of a feather duster. The Prime Minister even sent Nicholson supportive text messages. Were managers like Nicholson playing too useful a role in drawing the media flak, to be sacked?

The NHS is being forced to cut £20bn from its budget in line with a plan dreamt up by the global American management consultants McKinsey. Our health service is being squeezed so hard that it is struggling to survive. Is it being set up to fail so politicians can justify further privatisation? Last year the NHS spent even less than its trimmed budget permitted - and George Osborne duly raided the NHS coffers in order to shore up the banker-induced economic crisis.

Meanwhile my patients are suffering from reduced services and longer waiting times.

Our local A&E departments have come under huge pressure in recent months. Staff are struggling to cope with numbers attending their departments. A dwindling number of consultants struggle to fill the work rotas.

So who did Hunt blame for these A&E pressures? Maybe the Department of Health should have undertaken better planning to ensure enough emergency medicine consultants were trained? Maybe Hunt should have looked at boosting self care provision in the NHS so patients have more information at hand in dealing with minor ailments rather than attending A&E? None of these occurred. Hunt instead decided to blame…..GPs. Yes - the GP contract of 2004 is apparently to blame for the current crisis in A&E. Not one health professional believed this blatant attempt to deflect the blame. It was however dutifully reported in the media.

So this is a Secretary of State who is the most pro-GP, pro-health worker in the history of the NHS? The feeling isn’t mutual. This year, Hunt received votes of no confidence from both the Royal College of Nursing and from the British Medical Association, which represents all UK doctors (including all GPs). Hunt clearly didn’t want to leave Andrew Lansley feeling left out as Lansley got his vote of no confidence from the RCN in 2011 and BMA in 2012. Quite a feat for two successive Conservative Secretary of States for Health.

It is clear Jeremy Hunt has little support from those who work in the NHS, who see Hunt blaming everyone but himself for the recent problems in the NHS. Those of us at the coal face are left unimpressed by his political skills and the policies of this Tory led coalition which day in day out seeks to further privatise our NHS in order to please the coalition’s friends in the City and no doubt set up cushy Directorships for the politicians once they ‘move on’ from their current role.

Wake up Mr Hunt. Smell the coffee. The NHS is where it is now is down to you and your coalition colleagues. The public are fed up of you destroying our NHS and we only hope that no further irreversible damage occurs before General Election Day in 2015 comes - the day when we have our chance to vote on how we feel you have looked after our NHS. For me that day cannot come too soon.


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