“I think the public is desperate for politicians to speak truthfully – but it isn’t always easy.”
So said Jeremy Hunt last Wednesday – illustrating the point with a story about how as health secretary he would tell the media the NHS had all the money it needed, while privately lobbying for more.
He added: “The most important thing – is never, ever tell a lie.”
Had he known what would happen less than 48 hours after the Shoreham Festival event he would have no doubt been more circumspect in his remarks about NHS funding?
However, thanks to this quirk in timing, we now have a clear view of the views the new chancellor carries into his job.
Of course, those views will have collided pretty quickly with what goes for reality in a Liz Truss government, because our Jeremy has his eye on the top job. Always has, always will.
Appearing on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme on Saturday morning, Waverley’s SW Surrey MP said that:
“all” government departments would be asked to make “efficiencies”. Asked if that included the Department of Health and Social Care, he simply repeated “all”.
The service now faces a chancellor who will agree with NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard’s remarks just a week ago that
“the money is a f**king nightmare.”
Jeremy believes his record tenure as health secretary gives him a unique insight into where the NHS can make savings.
Mr Hunt’s knowledge of what is going on in the NHS world will also be supplemented by the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Edward Argar – who served as DHSC minister of state through the pandemic.
NHSE is, of course, on track to nearly halve the 22,000 strong posts that a range of mergers have handed it. Mr Hunt will likely want that reduction driven harder and faster now he is in the driving seat. Expect a focus on areas like spending on agency staff – which is rising despite repeated attempts to restrict it.
Mr Hunt is expected to exercise influence across the government. Many insiders describe him as its “chief executive,” with prime minister Liz Truss as a disempowered non-executive chair who is heading for a quick exit.
However, we believe it is Rishi pulling Jeremy’s strings from behind the scenes.
Everything comes to those who wait?
In this context, even ignoring his unparalleled experience, both good and bad, his views on health and care reform are highly significant.
This might first manifest itself in the appearance – finally – of a long-term workforce plan for the NHS. This has been blocked by the Treasury for years because of fears that it would commit future governments to potentially unsustainable levels of funding. Well now he is The Treasury! So can put his money where his mouth is.
But it is perhaps social care where Mr Hunt’s influence might be most telling. When at the DHSC he argued strongly, but unsuccessfully, for a long-term social care plan to match the NHS plan launched by NHSE in January 2019.
Mr Hunt told the Shoreham event:
“We won’t solve the problems in the NHS till we look at the social care system as well.”
He is, of course, right – and now he can do something about it. But will he that is the question. And will he get time? The pundits think not for our SW Surrey MP. If there was a General Election today – he would be out!!