Jeremy Hunt: A man living on borrowed time

11th January, 2013 3:26 pm

If there was a politician in 2012 that had a year of two halves, then it was Jeremy Hunt.

By the time of the Olympics he had become a comedy figure and it looked like the Jubilee year would be one to forget.  Hiding behind trees at Murdoch parties, calling lobbyists “Daddy” and being unable to ring a bell without almost killing a member of the public was greeted with hilarity by almost every political commentator.  This coupled with the fact that he was so evidently in hoc with the press corporations seemed to spell the end of a ministerial career for this Murdoch lacky.

It was a surprise to most then, when Cameron appointed him to one of the most challenging portfolios in government; health secretary.  However, in this role he has been remarkably effective for the Tories.

When he took the health portfolio at the start of September the NHS privatisation was a weekly fixture on the front of broadsheet papers. Three months later the great sell off of the NHS is out of the news, despite this year starting with 105 private companies being given “any qualified provider” status.  The “no cuts to the NHS” argument, which was hanging by an increasing fraying string, has been decommissioned (for now).  And, Labours opinions poll lead on health, which had almost doubled since May 2010, is starting to shrink, a little.

Hunt’s success has been that he has enthusiastically championed patients.  He has sought to present himself as identifying with their anxieties and protecting them against the incompetent managers who let 1,200 die at Staffordshire Hospital.  He has floated the easily understandable idea of Ofsted inspections for hospitals and has committed himself to placing more control in patients’ hands. In short he has changed the conversation.

This nimbleness has been effective in the short term. If the Labour health team play it right it will be fatal for him in the long term.

The NHS reforms mean that the Heath Secretary now has very little control over what happens in the England’s hospitals. The close link between Westminster and the District General Hospital that Bevan designed has been broken. The power now lies with the CCGs and the NHS Commissioning Board. The Health Secretary can no longer pick up the phone to the Strategic Health Authority and tell them to sort out a politically embarrassing mess. No, the NHS is now a maze of contractual obligations, fragmented care and huge gaps through which patients will fall: the brave new world.

In the new NHS, a Health Secretary championing patients’ rights is comparable to him championing the Black Mandibled Toucan: he has no direct control; he can only draw attention to their plight.

This year the £4 billion real term cut to the NHS will start to bite, new companies will enter the market at pace and the NHS Commissioning Board and the CCGs will take control of budgets.  Patients are about the get hammered and tragically many of them will die unnecessarily.  A Secretary of State for Health (who the public still hold responsible for their health service) championing patients is just a man living on borrowed time.

The Labour health team needs to adjust to this, and quickly.  The conversation has changed from “privatisation” to “patients in a fragmented service”.  This is a political gift, which should be accepted.  The privatisation rhetoric never found the traction with the public that it found within the Labour membership.  This conversation will.  Labour can be a megaphone for the patient and bring forward plans to remedy what are now clearly apparent problems with the new NHS.

  • 1earthmother2

    Absolutely but patients like myself cannot know what is going on without FOI applying to these new fragmentations.Private companies are free to withold information from patients even though they are publicly funded.For example if the ward I am on is not up to scratch on hygiene then the cleaning standards and records of the ward need to be scrutined but I have no right to this information.

    The FOI was a major achievement of the last Labour government.It ought to apply to every aspect of our public health system.

    • Daniel Speight

      Was it the FOI or the ban on fox-hunting that Blair said was the biggest mistake of his time in power? Or did he say both to different audiences? Was it just Blair telling a lie or it my forgetfulness getting worse? I suspect it’s the latter but I wouldn’t rule out the former. Won’t a Blairite step in and correct me and support his or her hero?

      • 1earthmother2

        The fact that Tony Blair regretted ever passing the FOI is evidence that it works.The way it works is by taking truth to power,that way we have a better chance of avoiding another Stafford but in a fragmented NHS with private companies under no obligation to provide information the risks go up.Accurate information has to be available if the NHS is to remain accountable.
        Are you suggesting the Labour party should remove the FOI from statute book because power does not like truth?Power never likes truth,absolute power even less.

      • David Talbot

        I think he said his biggest mistake was allowing Daniel Speight into the Labour party. I think, mind.

        As to the article; it’s almost like the Conservatives have forgotten why they embarked on this reorganisation in the first place. Lansley was moved precisely because he simply could not explain the political imperative of doing so, whilst, as Tom correctly, notes quite how Jeremy Hunt of all people was in effect promoted to Health is beyond me. I suspect very strongly that there is simply nothing behind Hunt – he really is as vacuous as he looks.

        Ultimately it will come down to the fact that GPs are doctors, they’re not commissoners, and it will inevitably lead to a patchwork service and tragic mistakes will be made.

      • Dave Postles

        No, you remain as sharp as a razor in your comments and your reflection.

    • tomkeeley

      Yes, I fully agree.

    • Dave Postles

      ‘Commercial confidentiality’ should not obtain where public funding is at issue. Taxpayers should have at least the same rights as shareholders in this appalling destruction of this fine institution on a whim of Lansley. As shareholders in the funding of each institution, taxpayers should have the right to be informed of the financial implications of the contract for each institution. In any case, this justification for ‘efficiency’ by the private sector has become risible. The private sector simply cuts investment so radically that effectiveness is placed at risk. We can see where this is leading. Every corporation in the US is reducing employees’ hours to avoid contributing to ‘Obamacare’. It’s the global race to the bottom. Lansley should be vilified and Cameron’s licence to him regarded with disdain. It’s why we need Unison and Unite.

  • Daniel Smith

    Funny thing was he was blabbing on the radio yesterday about Jimmy Saville – what’s that got to do with the NHS?


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