Is Jeremy Hunt causing the NHS crisis?

Photo courtesy of: 38 Dergrees

by Jack Anderson

Jeremy Hunt has been Health Secretary for 5 years. During his time in charge of health in the UK there have been some bumps in the road. Doctors striking for the first time in forty years was one, the Red Cross declaring the state of the NHS as a humanitarian crisis was another. When asked about whether the NHS was in crisis over Christmas Hunt said that it wasn’t and then said the following:

…we still have 150 avoidable deaths in our hospitals every week. We still have weekend provision that isn’t as good as it needs to be in some places. We still have children with brain injuries, twice a week, which could have been avoided. The truth is we have a paradox. We have some of the safest and best hospitals in the world, some of the best mental health care in the world, but it isn’t consistent. What we want to do is to be able to promise all NHS patients that wherever you go, you’ll be able to access the same high-quality care.

This is true, no-one wants avoidable deaths and everyone wants the level of care to be high across the country. What has Hunt done to make sure that the level of care improves and mistakes are cut out?

Junior Doctor Contracts

He has imposed a new contract on junior Doctors, which has made it much less attractive to become one. The new contract has working 7am to 5pm on Saturdays as part of a normal working week and Doctors will continue to work up to 48 hours in a week. This means that a Doctor could end up working 9-5 Monday to Saturday at no extra pay (and I read through the limits on hours section of the contract to make sure). Expecting someone to do this on a fairly consistent basis will lead to exhausted Doctors. It has been conclusively shown that a tired person will make more mistakes than a well-rested one. The new contract that Hunt put a lot of time into will only increase avoidable deaths, something that he has highlighted as a major problem.

Photo: Magnus Manske

A few more things about the contract, Hunt decided to impose it, would not negotiate with the Doctor’s Union (the BMA) in any sensible way and so caused the first Doctor strikes in forty years. He himself said that it took a long time to have a discussion and dialogue mainly (if not entirely) because he wouldn’t budge on anything. The BMA stopped negotiating when it became clear that they weren’t, in fact, negotiating. Hunt then claimed that Doctors have been misinformed by their Union. In the past a small section of a Union has been able to implement strikes against the will of the majority, 75% of Junior Doctors eligible to vote voted for a strike. Well done the BMA for misinforming 27,741 people on such small resources, many in the British press would be proud. Hunt also said that they were only after more money, someone who becomes a Doctor for money has made a bad choice, they do get well paid but other careers are much more rewarding. Being Minister for Health for example, much more money there.

He has also said he will increase the amount of Doctors to reduce these human errors, it will be hard to recruit more Doctors when other jobs are becoming much more rewarding. After Brexit he said that foreign Doctors would have to leave and more UK national Doctors would be trained to cover this gap. He has now announced that Doctors from Eastern Europe are being specially trained to come to the UK on high salaries to fill the already existing gaps. Consistency is not something that Jeremy wants anything to do with and the lack of Doctors continues to not be addressed.

7 Day NHS and funding

Hunt has said repeatedly that the Conservatives won re-election through a manifesto promise to bring a 7 day NHS. I doubt many people who voted for the Tories did so because of that, when asked most people said that they didn’t trust Labour with the economy, the NHS was not a priority. This 7 day NHS thought came from two studies that Hunt claims shows if someone is admitted at the weekend they are more likely to die than on a Wednesday. This is not backed up by a close reading of the study, in fact the study itself says that using the data in this way is, “Rash and misleading.” The report concludes that being admitted on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday is more risky than the rest of the week, nothing is being done about Mondays or Fridays. It should also be pointed out that Junior Doctors are in hospitals at weekends with Consultants on call, they do not close with a sign saying, “Please take an aspirin and come back on Monday.” Basically, nothing Hunt says about the 7 Day NHS is overly true.

The next step in the improving quality of care across the NHS is odd, one that almost no-one will have thought of, to reduce the budget. This is not an extremely careful, thought out process that will carefully trim expenses here and there where it will make little difference to overall care it is just a wholesale reduction, which the NHS will just have to deal with. In order to fund a 7 Day NHS more money is required, not less.

Conclusion

The NHS is struggling at the moment, there is a lack of staff and a lack of beds. It is impossible to go through each individual problem in this article but there are many. For example, intensive care units try to have 15% of beds free in case of emergencies but are currently at over 100% in many places across the country. Even if things were good then most of what Hunt is doing would cause problems but things are not. He has been in charge of the NHS for five years, he has not spent his time wisely and in fact is a key cause of many issues. The Canadian Minister of Health is a Doctor, it’s about time we did that too.

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