Hunt may have gone, but there’s little cause for celebration

Jeremy Hunt now walks away from the responsibility for our NHS
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Following a dramatic day in Westminster on Monday Jeremy Hunt is no longer Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Hunt, the destroyer of workforce morale, the privatiser, the taker of beds, the one who in six years has arguably done more damage to the NHS than many others have managed in decades is now Foreign Secretary replacing Boris Johnson after his shock resignation yesterday.

Hunt’s final tweet last night as Health Secretary seems largely oblivious to the problems and suffering he has caused, although he surely cannot be oblivious to how he is regarded and he retains a track record of goading the public over his facetious admissions:

Massive wrench for me to leave health – I know some staff haven’t found me the easiest health sec[retary] but the NHS, and particularly patient safety, has become my passion and it really was the greatest privilege of my life to serve for so many years. [1]

There have been searing and far more honest rejoinders on Twitter, amongst the best being from Dr Rachel Clarke who states:

It’s been quite a wrench for me too Jeremy. No-one in the whole history of the NHS did more than you to inspire frontline staff to speak out about the dangers of underfunding, understaffing and political trashing of our beloved, battered NHS. [2]

Yes, he has gone. There will surely be few who will mourn his departure from the position and yet early indications do not fill us with optimism over his replacement.

Hancock’s links with IEA

Arguably there is a clear reason as to why the MP for West Suffolk, Culture Secretary and former economist Matt Hancock has been chosen. Since 2010 he has received funding from the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). The IEA is Britain’s oldest right of centre free-market think tank whose distaste for our NHS is well known, its head of health and welfare Kristian Niemietz calling the NHS:

… [a] demographic timebomb…with an unsustainable funding structure that leads to poor health outcomes and a lack of patient choice. [2]

According to the MP’s register of interests Mr Hancock has so far received around £30,000 from the former fellow bank of England economist and Chairman of the IEA Neil Record whose organisation advocates and openly calls for the privatisation of the NHS. Indeed, Matt Hancock has in the past gone out of his way to publicly acknowledge “extensive research” by the IEA when he announced a controversial change in rules to ban charities from using public funds to lobby ministers. Mr Record said the new health secretary had “a very sound political philosophy”.[3]

Better the Devil you know?

The fact that our new health minister is clearly so friendly with a powerful lobbyist for privatisation and that there is a clear conflict of interest in what his role should be in advocating for a public system does not bode well, and makes the future of our health service as a publicly owned and provided organisation all the more tenuous. Many who were pleased to hear the news of Hunt’s departure last night will perhaps be considering with hindsight that it may be a case of ‘better the devil you know’.

Hancock has no obvious links to the NHS and no dealings or overt interest in the service. He is a keen advocate for utilising new and emerging technology which tallies with this governments agenda to introduce technological innovations into the NHS – not to aid professional expertise but to replace it. It is interesting that it is this facet of his expertise which has been seized upon – especially considering it is again likely to be private companies that will benefit from contracts introducing apps into our NHS.

What will the future hold under Matt Hancock?

Our prognosis isn’t promising. Close links to an organisation that wants to privatise, a lack of much needed knowledge at a time of crisis in the NHS and – of genuine concern – inexperience around what is needed and how to lobby within the Conservative Party for the NHS will threaten the already unsubstantiated and insufficient funding injection we were promised.

Many have celebrated the exit of Hunt. However now is not the time for any campaigner to rest on their laurels. We are still governed by a party whose primary agenda is to unpick and undermine a publicly owned and publicly provided service. Going forward there will, it seems, be even more influence exerted from those who seek to undermine the NHS’ founding principles. The name may have changed but the motive remains.

We have rigorously held the line against Hunt – from Lewisham to Huddersfield, from North Devon to the Royal Courts; we have toxified Hunt’s and NHS England’s policies of STPs and ACOs. We must fight on until this government itself is displaced and the NHS can be fully reinstated.

Samantha Wathen, Press and Media Officer

References
1. Jeremy Hunt Twitter account
2. Dr Rachel Clarke Twitter account @doctor_oxford
3. https://iea.org.uk/publications/universal-healthcare-without-the-nhs/
4. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/matthew-hancock-tory-mp-accepted-4000-donation-from-think-tank-before-announcing-charity-lobbying-a6880071.html


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