Former health secretary and now chancellor Jeremy Hunt needs to acknowledge the damage inflicted on the NHS by himself and his party during his tenure as health secretary and since.
Perhaps it is time to remind some of those stalwart Farnham & Godalming Hunt supporters to cast their minds back. Perhaps, they need to be reminded why the NHS is in such dire straits today with another Junior Doctors’ strike looming.
“I may not be a gynaecologist,” it read, “but I know a Hunt when I see one.”
No other health secretary in NHS history has incensed the medical profession quite like its longest-serving incumbent. During his six-year tenure from 2012 to 2018, Jeremy Hunt presided over a catastrophic decline in NHS standards, the pain of year-on-year austerity budgets, failed pledges to increase the size of the NHS workforce (those 5,000 extra GPs he vowed to deliver by 2020 shrivelled, in fact, into 1,425 fewer GPs) and, most infamously of all, a series of unprecedented strikes by NHS junior doctors.
As a striking junior doctor myself, anti-Hunt sentiment in my household reached such a fever pitch that my then three-year-old daughter, on seeing a tall man walking into the hospital where I worked, once shrieked: “Mummy! Jeremy Hunt is walking into your hospital.” “Oh dear,” I said. “What do you think I should do?” “Go in after him and chop off his head.” These were supercharged, horrible times.
Even today, eight years after the dispute limped to an ignominious end (Hunt duly imposed his despised new contract), my casual mention in the doctors’ mess that he had written a book about all things, patient safety triggered a volley of anatomically robust invective. Zero, the book in question, is subtitled Eliminating Preventable Harm and Tragedy in the NHS. Its ambition cannot be faulted: “Zero is a book about how the NHS can reduce the number of avoidable deaths to zero and in the process save money, reduce backlogs and improve working conditions,” Hunt writes. “Delivering the safest, highest quality care in the NHS post-pandemic could be our very own 1948 moment.”
If I read this correctly, Hunt is suggesting that his blueprint for the health service is so radical it may transform the provision of healthcare for the British public as dramatically as the inception of the NHS three-quarters of a century ago. This raises a rather obvious question. Given that he was the longest-serving health secretary in NHS history, why didn’t he impose his vision in office.Not once over the 13 last years has your party cared enough about patient safety to “enforce minimum service & safety levels.” I’ve seen patient die in horrifically understaffed conditions for years – in corridors, on the floor, in toilets, in cupboards. Yet you’ve done nothing.
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MPToday I announced a new bill which would enforce minimum service and safety levels for vital public services. By delivering these safety levels, this government is ensuring that lives and livelihoods are not lost.