Thursday, 14 January 2016

On Being a Jeremy Hunt

The junior doctor's strike happened and there was much ballyhoo about it. One thing in particular that strikes (if you'll forgive the pun) is the way it's portrayed as a battle and what that battle is about. In particular there are the motives of Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, to consider; what is he trying to achieve with this?

His side of the story is that he wants to see a 7-day NHS and is willing to impose this by legal diktat. His reasoning behind this is that people are more likely to die at the weekends and that this is because the NHS doesn't work hard enough. Ignore for the moment that this is wrong, and that the NHS already does work more or less 7-days a week and that the weekend effect is due to some noise and probably lots of other factors in the data [2]. Data that Jeremy Hunt doesn't understand, but again leave that aside. The junior doctors, consultants and everyone else in the NHS are happy to do this but want to be properly paid for it, and have the proper resources [1]. You'd think, then, this would be pretty simple to resolve: pay people what they're asking for and make sure they have the adequate resources to do what everyone wants to do. The government, however, balks at this. Despite the modern conservative philosophy basically boiling down to 'the sole motivator for people is money' they still appear to be shocked, shocked, to discover that people working in public sector jobs don't want to do everything for free.

Hence the dispute.

Back to the motives though, I do occasionally encounter people who think this is all part of a plot to run down the NHS and privatize it. For all I know it may well be. But I think it's easier to understand what Hunt is doing here if we compare it to another person in the cabinet: Michael Gove and his inglorious reign as Education Secretary.

What after all did Gove do? He picked a fight with the unions so that he could portray himself as on the side of the parents and children against the vile Orcs of the NUT who wanted to slaughter children and drink wine on their remains (or something like that). It's nonsense, of course, but the Conservative base and the press lap it up. So Gove is seen as some kind of shinning hero, bravely defending education for monoliths and not a man stuck in the 1960s whose fondest desire is reintroduce the 11-plus (what I believe he was aiming for).

Point is: it wasn't about education, improving it or anything else. It was about self-promotion. Having some big fight to look good and position for the post-MP job market. And, to judge by what the right says about Gove, it worked a treat.

Now look at Hunt. It's exactly the same stuff. A pointless fight, over a non-problem, that portrays the BMA as villains who don't care, with Hunt bravely defending patients from their lazy, evil, money grabbing ways. Hunt is the on the side of patients against the BMA who are on the side of doctors and don't give a stuff about the patients the cry appears to be.

This is wrong. Like Gove before him, Jeremy Hunt is on the side of Jeremy Hunt and that's about it.


[1] It is, after all, pointless to have the consultants and doctors there at the weekend if they don't have the ability to use the machinery, or go to the specialists, because they're not there. This should be obvious, but it seems to escape some commentators notice. It is not surprising that the government can't afford this, though, seeing as they are demanding that the NHS make cuts of £22 billion pounds, whilst pretending that they're really increasing funding by giving £8 billion pounds.

[2] To take just one: if you've been sent to the hospital at the weekend your condition is likely to be more serious.

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