NHS 'slipped backwards' under Jeremy Hunt and departure is 'long overdue', health experts say

Divisive politician gets mixed review as experts say health service's improvements have been undermined by collapse in waiting times and staffing

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 10 July 2018 20:13
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Jeremy Hunt replaces Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary

The NHS “slipped backwards” on core parts of its mission and alienated swathes of staff during six years under Jeremy Hunt, but some patients thanked the new foreign secretary for “giving them a voice”.

After a departure no less controversial than his tenure, praise and scorn came in equal measure.

Mr Hunt said in a departing message on Twitter that some staff “haven’t found him the easiest to deal with” and there were those who reacted jubilantly to news.

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke was one of those at the forefront of the industrial action against his decision to impose a contract slashing overtime payments for weekend and evening work for junior doctors.

She said his “unforgettable, shameful legacy” includes a “cull of 7,000 hospital beds”, the NHS’ “humanitarian crisis at winter”, and warnings over the “premature” deaths of patients in hospital corridors.

But there were tributes paid by Melissa Mead and James Titcombe, parents who lost their children in NHS scandals, for his repeated emphasis on patient safety.

Mr Titcombe’s son Joshua died after suffering pneumococcal septicaemia and a lung haemorrhage on 5 November 2008, nine days after he was born at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria.

He praised Mr Hunt, writing: “Thank you for all you have done – your work has made a huge difference to patient safety and your personal support has made a huge difference to me.”

Ms Mead, whose son William died of sepsis in December 2014 following a string of NHS blunders, added on Twitter: “Thank you for listening to us and giving William a voice.”

However others suggested the harmful effects of waiting times and staff pressures have created more issues, many of which are yet to be fully felt.

Dr Nick Hopkinson, a consultant chest physician at The Royal Brompton Hospital said Mr Hunt had been “cynical” in aligning himself so closely with victims of NHS failures, while rejecting recommendations on minimum staffing levels.

Niall Dickson the chief executive of the membership group NHS Confederation said Mr Hunt had “inherited a tangled mess” and is leaving the NHS in a better state than expected.

“Given so little to play with, Hunt deserves credit for helping to keep the show on the road, but the health service – better in many ways – has also slipped back when it comes to meeting many of its core standards,” he added.

However trade union Unite said despite leaving on a high he did nothing to address problems in social care – “the crisis of the next decade”.

“He also failed to address the lack of focus on public health, the increasing waiting lists for routine operations, and leaves behind a workforce who continue to do all they can to hold the service together 24/7 against the odds,” Unite’s national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said.

“Jeremy Hunt’s departure as long-serving health secretary is overdue,” she added.

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