Coffee House

Jeremy Hunt’s promising path as Health Secretary

9 February 2013

When Jeremy Hunt became Health Secretary last September, the Google Alert I set up against his name would spew forth a regular stream of contemptuous comment on the new appointment. Invariably accompanied by an unflattering photo – quite often that one (above) where Hunt arrives in Downing Street looking less ready for a Cabinet meeting than as the stand-in children’s entertainer – the pieces conformed to an ordained boiler-plate. They would focus either on his Murdoch-stained record in office, or on the certainty that he was about to privatise the NHS out of existence or, failing that, on the general observation that here was another public school twit, capable of getting lost in the back of his own ministerial car. The best-crafted ones managed to combine elements of all three.

Today, however, Hunt’s media profile is rather different. The Google Alerts now tend to point in the direction of things the Health Secretary has said or done and less towards the achingly predictable reflexes of the NHS establishment. This is more than good fortune or circumstance. Even though the Prime Minister stole the limelight over Stafford – no doubt because there is nothing Cameron likes to do more than to apologise for things that aren’t his fault and declare his immortal love for the NHS – the fact that, as a political issue, this one is running in the Government’s direction owes much to Hunt’s careful preparation. Nor is he letting up. This morning sees him calling on the police to bring the responsible (or rather irresponsible) people at the Mid-Staffs hospital to book. The criminal justice system is yet another one that failed in this miserable tale.

When I say to people that I think we have a rather canny Health Secretary on our hands, they invariably reply that this is because he hasn’t said or done anything. This isn’t true. Hunt hasn’t said or done anything stupid (with the possible exception of his early comments on abortion, where he allowed himself to be lured into a swamp), but that is not the same as inactivity. On the contrary, he has quite deliberately set out on a different, and politically far more promising, path from his predecessor.


One example is Alzheimer’s disease, which Hunt has repeatedly said is his personal priority, backing these words with the mobilization of such bureaucratic instruments as are at his disposal. We can argue whether this is the right priority, as against obesity say, or cancer, but at least it shows the Health Secretary engaging with an actual issue of ill health, of concern to millions of people. Andrew Lansley, despite the clue in the job title, never seemed that much bothered about health. He was a structures man, consumed with his reforms and what they would do to improve ‘outcomes’. But real people don’t go looking for improved outcomes. They want to recover from their heart attack, or get relief from their arthritis or see the health and social services do their best for a parent with advancing dementia.

Then there is the matter of standards of care in hospital – the issue that reached a climax with the publication of the Francis Report on Stafford on Wednesday. Knowing that he was soon to publish the report, Mr Hunt made calculated moves from the start to bring the issue it deals with to the front of public consciousness. It may seem like a risky strategy, because we know how everyone loves their NHS; yet we also know that what happened at Stafford, though at an extreme end of the spectrum, has resonance for many many people who have either been in hospital themselves or had friends or relatives there. That the Stafford scandal happened under a Labour administration at the height of its spending spree also serves to undermine the central leftist argument on the NHS: that there isn’t a problem with the health service that cannot be solved by having a Labour government spending more.

It is far too early to declare that Hunt is a successful health secretary. There are plenty of things that can still trip him up and, besides, with the exception of Nye Bevan and, maybe, Enoch Powell, no health minister ever left the office with a higher reputation than when he went in to it. However, just as Michael Gove starts to wobble on his pedestal as the Cabinet’s golden boy, perhaps it is from an unexpected quarter that a challenger will arise.

Richard Marsh is a former special adviser to two Conservative Secretaries of State for Health.

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  • Barbara Stevens

    Has a retired nurse I know the NHS well. During my time working for it I saw it save lives daily, it does do good whatever some people might say. Without it you have to ask yourself what will replace it, and would it be affordable? I doubt most would be able to meet health costs. The collective system is a good idea, but its failings have been created not by the NHS it’s self, but by those who propose to run it. Firstly, it should not be free to all, it should be free only to British citizens or those who have worked here and paid NI stamps for a certain number of years to qualify. It should not provide free care for health tourists who are using it and abusing it at will, using emotional blackmail with their health while here.
    There is nothing that cannot be mended within the health service, but the culture within from it’s employees needs to change. I recently needed he NHS, from falling downstairs and breaking an ankle. Ambulance arrived within five min, surgeon came within one hour, operated on almost straight away and on the ward within four hours. Then the problems began. Nurses stood talking at the nurses station, while patients needed help, bells continually ringing wern’t answered. Why? I never had one nurse come to me and ask if I was OK, I administered my own drugs from home, without question, and I being a diabetic, is not quite right.
    On my second morning a nurse stood by my door and said, ‘is her getting up today’.
    Well her did get up and followed her up the corridor tapped her on the shoulder and said. ‘Her’s up now, and her’s got a name, use it please.’ Needless to say apologies followed, but like I told her, during my day you would have been thrown out. It was needless rudeness, and a culture of I’m in charge damm the rest.

  • McRobbie

    Leave it to labour party and we get what we now have in the NHS: a non caring caring system; education: third world teaching standards; BBC, bullying cover ups and incompetent waste, civil service: responsibility dodging and more waste.

    The left have only one answer to everything, spend more of our money on high salaries for their mates in the unions; but dont ask them to work harder and better. Hunt and Gove are asking the right questions, trying to find a way through the maze of labour appointed self serving inept senior public sector management.

  • dalai guevara

    What we witness is the continued pursuit of the privatisation agenda of the NHS due to Mid-Staffs outrageous failings. Why?
    What we witness is the continued pursuit of the privatisation agenda in schools, pushing for ‘schools for profit’ – not much else. Why?
    What we witness is the continued pursuit of the privatisation agenda of our infrastructure. One of the last things we can find to sell – what a shocking state of affairs.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …yes, it’s so wonderful now. Why ever would anybody think about change?

      What’s a couple thousand deaths or so? Hardly worth all this clamor, is it?

      Everything’s going swimmingly, in every sector of everything, all the time.

      The only sensible thing is to stay the course.

      • dalai guevara

        Yes, when privatisation fails (last year’s papers were full of great stories) then lets just continue privatising, shall we? The only reason why we are is because there is no visionary plan B.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yeah, this story of thousands of dead is a much better story. It’s visionary, to boot.

          Stay the course. It’s for the best, no doubt.

          • dalai guevara

            Jeeez…Mid Staff a case made to support a privatisation agenda? How so?
            It’s a case made to launch criminal charges against those who value targets over patient care – that’s about it. Everything else is spin.

            • the viceroy’s gin


              Thousands dead?

              A minor hiccup.

              Stay the course.

              • dalai guevara

                Keep calm and carry on.
                I never understood how this phrase made it onto cookery ware.

  • Smithersjones2013

    I’m not sure how seriously one should take notice of the views of a Spad from the Major Government. After all it was a disaster pretty much from start to finish. At least we know the ‘Cones Hotline’ was not one of his (it was a different department)

    Anyone can be ‘canny’ when they are protected as Hunt is and have money thrown at them as the NHS has for over a decade. Ironically, he doesn’t mention Hunts profligate database fetish (implementing that giant database through the back door using questionable and expensive salami slicing techniques) or the ominous and often offensive health fascism coming out of Public ‘Elf.

    As for his belated calls for a Police Investigation lets hope thats not all they are and its more than just adding a smokescreen to the bureaucratic whitewash in the Francis report. Those bureaucrats who seem to have stuck their heads in the sand need to be made accountable for their lack of action. Too often under Labour it seems everyone was earning a fortune but when they were asked to actually do some work everyone was looking around for someone else to do that work. Negligence doesn’t cover it. Needless to say none of them should be working in the NHS today.

    • telemachus

      I am confused
      Are you one of us?

      • Smithersjones2013

        I don’t know what are you?

        • the baracus

          Telemachus is a bit dim unfortunately. For some reason they feel the need to comment on everything in a pathetic attempt to antagonise people. I think they have low self esteem issues….. You have to pity them really.

      • the baracus

        We’ve always known you confused….

    • Fergus Pickering

      What is health fascism, old son?

  • HooksLaw

    On the other hand the Speccy are getting very good at lacing their stories with idiot photos.
    However when you come out with idiot comments like ‘But real people don’t go looking for improved outcomes’, should we be surprised?

    A sad decline.

  • In2minds

    Jeremy Hunt –

    “There are plenty of things that can still trip him up”

    Like the giant EU inspired data base he’s keen on.

    • telemachus

      I think there may still be a little mileage in the Murdoch connection

      • John McClane

        I think there may be more mileage in Andy Burnham’s part in the Mid-Staffs scandal.

        • David Lindsay

          Evidently not.

    • HooksLaw

      Just asking – where does the EU come into this data base?

      There are a lot of problems with data bases – but there is no fundamental reason why the NHS should not computerise and make patient records more easily accessible where they are needed.

  • telemachus

    Will someone tell us why Nicholson was knighted

    • the baracus

      Can the same person also as why a former communist was promoted to that position? Perhaps the famed socialist long march through the institutions? For that blame your brothers who were in power from 97 till 2010…..

    • anyfool

      He was knighted because the useless trash that was the Labour Government have infected the whole of British society with talentless class warriors who now head all the important positions of power, they give preferment to these type of incompetent eunuchs.

      • Field Marshal

        Another conundrum.
        Who was Director of Operations at Stafford when the first reports came through of excess mortality in the 1990’s?
        This report amongst other concerns led the PCT to question the competency of the management at Stafford.
        Where is that Director of Operations now and who appointed them to their current post?

        • telemachus

          Is there an answer to your conundrum?

  • telemachus

    So the ignorant man this morning wanted the police the GMC and others onto individuals at Stafford saying the information is in the public domain
    He clearly has no understanding of mechanisms

    He can however sack Nicholson but will not

    • starfish

      He has a clear understanding of mechanisms

      Unfortunately in this case they all failed

      All the so-called professionals and their governing bodies were manifestly incompetent, verging on negligence

      Nicholson should go, but so should a huge number of other people

      Preferably to jail

      • telemachus

        Hunt is in charge
        Nicholson is still in post and neither under investigation nor in jail

        • HooksLaw

          Why should Nicholson be in jail? Who did he personally physically mistreat?
          The principle you expound should surely stretch right up to the (labour) minister in charge at the time.

      • Smithersjones2013

        verging on negligence

        Hundreds died over several years not in a single unforeseen incident! How many need to die before it clearly is negligence?

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