HEALTH SECRETARY HUNT: Revealed – what you see & what you get


huntniceThoughtful, concerned reformer

The deckchair-rearrangement of high-profile (and often hitech) ‘developments’ that emerges from Jeremy Hunt’s department is a non-stop fog of ether in the mainstream press. While on Twitter, cutting-edge Hunt (rearrange consonants depending on your personal preferences) gives off the impression of Caring On-the-Ground Man:

Remember those with #dementia this Christmas. Visit the Christmas memories blog

Thinking aloud this morning about the courage and compassion in care that can’t be measured, only celebrated

We need clear independent ratings to drive relentless improvement in care standards.

Just met an inspiring group of CCG and primary care leaders @nhsalliance conference. Much enthusiasm and ambition for improvement.

2/3 of people in care homes&1/4 of people in hospital have dementia but does their care constitute a big enough part of inspection regimes?

If England’s lung cancer survival rates were as good as the best in Europe, we could save 1,300 additional lives per year.

Note, as always with Jezzer, the compassion cuff on his sleeve conceals something up it: a constant harping on about the need to raise standards in diagnosis and care. Nothing wrong with this as a public health principle. But let’s see as we go on just how committed to that Mr Hunt is…park it for now.

If you are too self-absorbed to follow Jeremy on Twitter,  you’ve probably been unable to miss NHS website and press release drivel that leaks with ease, via hack idleness, into our national media set:

‘Across the country 100,000 people are set to benefit from new health technologies, Jeremy Hunt said today, as he set out his vision for improving the lives of people with long-term conditions’.

Hunt spoke at an Age Care conference re this one, to launch the roll-out of telehealth yet another flash-Harry electronic information gizmo to help people with long-term conditions keep control over their own care.

This ignores that fact that most people in this sector are over 70, and unlikely to be Bill Gates.

It’s pure New Labour – as is Jeremy’s fab new Patient Mandate:

‘Unveiling the Mandate, Mr Hunt announcing a range of new measures to improve patient care and experience using the NHS. He said he hoped that within a few years patients would be able to put their postcode into a new system to see how well their local hospital compared to others across a range of treatments and services.’ One wonders, having done that, WTF they’d be able to do about it.

In fact, the document is a cynical watering-down of expectations, in which various standard requirements have been removed entirely. (See later under ‘what you get’)

Revisiting Hunt’s tweets – ‘Thinking aloud this morning about the courage and compassion in care that can’t be measured, only celebrated’ – this translates into:

‘A new 3 year vision and strategy, aimed at building a culture of compassionate care for nursing, midwifery and care staff, has been launched today at the Chief Nursing Officer’s office’.

Uh-huh. Here’s his latest in a long line of puffery spouted by Health ministers since the days of Enoch Powell:

‘New standards setting out what patients should expect from NHS hospital food have been announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. A set of basic principles covering the quality of food….’ .

More guidelines, charters, high-sounding dietary guff. Or in a word, bollocks: again, rather light on the complaining mechanism.

Next up, some woffle that could’ve come straight from the mouth of Alan ‘New Dawn’ Johnson:

‘Surveys will be sent to elderly people and their carers asking them if they are lonely and feel socially isolated.

Councils can then offer services such as day centres and meals on wheels where necessary. Mr Hunt said: “Tackling loneliness, by giving people better care and improved services, is another step towards making the UK one of the best places to live in Europe for older people. We need a measure of loneliness to shine a light on this problem and to know what we are dealing with.”

Ah, right: we can’t measure compassion, but we can measure loneliness. But read carefully between the lines of this class Hunt weasel:

‘Mr Hunt will also announce a £20m package that councils can bid for to pay for schemes to help vulnerable people.’

£20m to cure UK loneliness nationally. That Councils can ‘bid for’. More double-gobbledee-gook.

And saving the best for last, haunting memories of the Alan Johnson ‘Dementia Map’ in this classic:

‘Maps showing the loneliest places in the UK are to be created, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced today’.

What do we do when we’ve got this, Mr Hunt? Ship in droves of extra health visitors? Who’s going to pay for that then, and how can you do it on an NHS headcount down by 61,000 in just over two years?
So ends the first part, “What you see”. By this I mean “What you see if you’re melded to the sofa watching Strictly with just The Sun for company”. If you’re even half-awake, the cynical and content-free spin is simply slightly more audacious than the heap of crap we got from the Other Lot during the previous thirteen years.

The high-point of Gordon Brown’s perfidy came with the infliction of the pfi ‘off balance-sheet’ scam on the NHS.  Tony Blair’s bullying, perjuring and completely illegal Iraq invasion was probably his Finest Hour. After reading the content below, you could be forgiven for believing that the Hunt/NHS secret agenda is like both these rolled into one.


huntnastycropDissembling privatisation fanatic and shadowy Murdoch fan

1. The UK Statistics Authority upheld a complaint by Labour about government claims the NHS budget had increased in real-terms in the past two years. The watchdog found the best-available Treasury data suggested real-terms health spending was lower in 2011-12 than in 2009-10.

2. Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe believes that cuts in nursing staff could have ‘disastrous consequences’ for patient care, observing during a debate last week that “Frontline nursing care is being severely threatened by the £20 billion efficiency savings target set for the NHS.” And former obstetrician Lord Patel says “There is now a shortfall of 4,500 to 5,000 midwives in the United Kingdom with half of the workforce aged between 45 and 55. Recruitment of a younger workforce is extremely important.” Analysis by the Royal College of Nursing suggested that across 41 NHS trusts in England, registered nurses and health care assistants accounted for 34% of posts ‘earmarked to be cut’.

3. The patient watchdog for the NHS in north Wales says it cannot approve plans to overhaul hospital services. In a strongly worded statement, the CHC’s chief officer Pat Billingham said: “Based on what we know now, we cannot give the health board’s proposals a ‘green light’…We can – indeed, must – object to proposals for change if we believe that those risks outweigh the benefits and are not in the interests of people who use services”.

4. Proposals to cut the number of NHS beds available across Britain are being tucked away in documents published by NHS Trusts…who also plan to close or downgrade A&E departments. These include:

  • The number of patients treated in hospital to be restricted, with care increasingly provided by GPs. (Already being privatised)
  • In North-West London, almost 800 beds – one in four – to be lost across nine hospitals.
  • King George Hospital in Ilford, Essex, could see its capacity cut from 387 beds to just 47 in a few years.
  • In South-East London, 618 beds are to be scrapped across seven hospitals over the next five years.
  • There are also plans to slash beds in other parts of London and Manchester, but the scale of these cuts is yet to be revealed.

These disclosures (and yes, it was in the Daily Mail, not the Mirror, or the Guardian)  came just days after the publication of a report warning that hospitals are ‘full to bursting’, with the Government’s own figures showing that 94% of beds were occupied last month – well over the recommended maximum to ensure patient safety.

Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the Royal  College of GPs, said: “I’m shocked. The NHS is heaving. We don’t have enough beds. We’ll be looking after sicker and sicker people in the community, with nowhere to put them. We can’t cope. Community services are stretched beyond belief. Patients will suffer in the end. We could end up with beds in corridors all over again.”

A report for NHS North West London, which was leaked to The Mail on Sunday, assesses proposals to close four out of the area’s nine casualty units. The opening page of the report, which was written by independent public-health specialist Dr David McCoy, warns that its contents should not be ‘quoted or disseminated’ and are strictly for ‘limited circulation’.

The report says the closures involve ‘a significant shift of health care activity and expenditure’, to be achieved by closing A&E wards and ‘a reduction in the number of hospital beds’. However, details of the clinical rationale and modelling used to arrive at the proposal are absent.

Dr John Lister, director of campaign group London Health Emergency said: ‘This is being smuggled through without proper debate. The consultation document told local people and health professionals only part of the story, and kept key details tucked away in obscure documents. We urge a reopening of consultation and a proper debate with all the facts on the table.’

Here’s an example that supports him fully:

In South-East London, a special administrator appointed by the Government to oversee changes at South London Healthcare NHS Trust, which is close to bankruptcy, has highlighted the need to close hundreds of beds. The information is on page 54 of Appendix K of the administrator’s draft report and reveals there should be 618 bed closures by 2017 – 15 per cent of the current total. This includes 173 at Lewisham Hospital and 224 at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. However, a spokeswoman for Guy’s and St Thomas’ denied there were any plans to close beds. (Sorry Guardianistas, the Mail again)

5. Hunt’s 28 page Patient Mandate sets out what ministers expect from NHS managers when they assume new responsibility for the service next April. The new document is a lot shorter and a lot less specific than we saw in the version published by Andrew Lansley last summer. Hunt has torn up plans to force the NHS to meet specific targets on increasing patient satisfaction, reducing premature deaths and improving the quality of life for those with long term health conditions.

6. Within days of getting the Health portfolio, Jeremy Hunt was accused of having too close links to private healthcare after it emerged that he is in talks to hire a personal adviser from the sector as one of his first moves as health secretary. Hunt hired Christine Lineen, formerly head of communications at Circle Health, the controversial firm which earlier this year became the first to run an NHS hospital, to become one of his policy experts. (Ms Lineen’s unofficial capacity is apparently to head up the offstage committee exclusively revealed by The Slog last month). Hunt’s second-cousin Virginia Bottomley is the leading private health lobbyists’ contact in the House of Lords. She handed on her SW Surrey MP seat when ennobled some years ago….to Jeremy Hunt.

7. Jeremy Hunt personally intervened to ensure that Virgin Care was able to take over the running of seven community hospitals in his constituency. He was so concerned by a delay to the £650m deal that he asked for assurances from NHS Surrey officials that it would be swiftly signed. Virgin Care, which is part-owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, subsequently agreed on a five-year contract in March this year.

8. Controversial plans to build a massive database that would be capable of storing every British citizen’s DNA records were announced by the prime minister. David Cameron will announce a groundbreaking initiative designed to position the UK at the forefront of the genetic revolution. The plan has been drawn up by the Human Genomics Strategy Group, run by Professor Sir John Bell, an adviser to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Last week Cameron’s senior policy advisor, Rohan Silva, said that the NHS’s patient records were a “valuable asset” and predicted that sharing them in a safe, secure and anonymous way with researchers would allow the UK to be at the forefront of the next generation of health technologies.

Concerns that it could affect people’s civil liberties are widespread (Tories lashed into Labour’s plans for exactly the same thing) and it is worrying that there appears to be plenty of money to identify patients, but not enough to cure them. It all feels like yet more doing of GCHQ’s bidding.

“Plans to build a DNA database of everybody in the NHS are a massive waste of public money and a gravy train for IT and gene sequencing companies and private healthcare,” said Genewatch’s director, Dr Helen Wallace. “This Big Brother project will allow every individual and their relatives to be identified and tracked and makes the scrapped plans for ID cards look like small government.”

There are also worries about how the data will be used and shared with third parties, including commercial organisations. Like Newscorp, perhaps. Chiefly however, gene experts believe the plans are but another example of the flash replacing the important. The IVF pioneer, Professor Lord Robert Winston, told a literary festival over the summer that the hype around the human genome was “complete balls”. Dr Stuart Hogarth, of the department of social science, health and medicine at King’s College London, pointed out that the UK already had a DNA database, the UK biobank, which has more than half a million records. Before we start using genetic data in clinical practice, we need to demonstrate that it’s going to improve clinical outcomes.”


It’s not hard to understand why “What you Get” with Jeremy Hunt – behind all the NHS deceit and subterfuge – bears no relation at all to what you see – if you’re too distracted by other stuff to think. In a Tory right-wing Think Tank book co-authored with the ubiquitous Dan Hannan in 2005, this is what the two little scamps wrote on Page 78:

Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain’

Hunt’s apologist say he has “moved his view on since then”, although Dan Hannan hasn’t. The facts outlined above would suggest that the only moving on Jeremy had done is into the job as Health Secretary…where he is now putting his ‘ideas’ into practice.

If his plan is the privatisation of healthcare (and on balance this is not really in doubt) I would say he is wrong purely the basis of individual citizen affordability, and the disastrous US experience of a private insurance model. What I object to is the two-faced, double-dealing and facetious stealth employed by Hunt in this and all his career dealings.

You can feast on the full portion that unpleasant gruel at The Slog’s dedicated page, Hunt Balls.