The NHS is no fairytale and the wards are war. With record medical staff leaving, low morale and a worsening patient burden, a once-proud institution is truly on its knees. And unfortunately, according to some, that’s exactly the plan.
Now the alleged overseer of privatisation has been rewarded with even more responsibility while the NHS scrambles to stay afloat. And with that, the responsibility of even more lives.
As you may have guessed, I am talking about Jeremy Hunt. It is fair to say that the role of Health Secretary is a poisoned chalice, where no one is spared rebuke. And to Hunt’s credit, he has always spoke highly of the NHS and appeared to want the best for it in his public comments. But many can’t ignore the growing evidence of a struggle, and lay the blame at his feet.
Whether you believe that the downfall of the NHS began with Thatcher, the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives, worsening social care or the most recent examples of increasing privatisation, we can all see things are worse off than they used to be. And at the centre of the worst crisis, and the lowest amounts of funding, in decades is Jeremy Hunt.
Now, with Hunt’s responsibilities extended, we are left to wonder: why are the concerns of doctors like me and our patients being ignored?
Jeremy Hunt was appointed Health Secretary in 2012, and since then has rarely avoided the limelight. With unsustainable finances and horrific waiting times in the NHS on his watch, he is an easy target. Does he suffer from a failure to recognise the problem, or something more sinister? Of course it isn't right to hold one man responsible for the actions of the entire Government, and it's undeniable that the Cabinet together, with Theresa May at the helm, have steered the country into an austerity-driven nightmare for public services.
In other words, it's hard to know whether Hunt himself wants to even remain in this position, and whether or not criticism of him is slightly unfair. He could simply the fall guy for a system doomed to fail by happenstance. Or something out of his control.
As interesting as conspiracy is, being a doctor has taught me that you must be careful with gut feelings. An emotive narrative is often more interesting that the truth, and wild duplicitous accusations levelled with contrived evidence is not legal judgement.
We all want someone to blame, and unfortunately for Hunt, the NHS is his territory (or as far as the leash will stretch from Number 10.) Conspiracy or not, things are getting worse. And worse still, Hunt and his superiors can only sing their own praises and (sometimes) offer apologies after the fact. Whether it's because Theresa May isn't allowing him the resources or the ability to do his job, or because he can't fight hard enough for what the health service needs, or because he hardly cares, something has to change. The fact that it hasn't is very concerning indeed.
The NHS and its workers feel abandoned. Thousands of trained, dedicated and big-hearted staff have been ignored or actively dismissed by Hunt in speeches. The internet is awash with those who believe that Hunt is in it to kill it. And if they are right, he seems to be doing very well.
For the moment let’s charge the public with judgement: should a man who has done – or allowed – so much damage to a national treasure be rewarded? Is this promotion deserved?
With Hunt’s new responsibilities, May has sent a clear message that both the NHS staff and public’s concerns can easily be ignored. His reward for a struggling service feels wildly inappropriate.
In some ways, I must be fair to Hunt. He has fought a long battle against relentless and passionate adversaries while celebrating the NHS. I appreciate that that must have required some mettle. But we know what’s happened to the NHS under his leadership, whether he intended it or not. And an expansion of his remit, tantamount to a promotion, is at best a mistake and at worst an insult to people like me who work in medicine in the UK every day.
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