Mr Hunt, who are you to disagree with Stephen Hawking?
Dr Kailash Chand
Dear Mr Hunt, with which part of this statement by Stephen Hawking do you disagree?
'The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions, these political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of the student nurses’ bursary. Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages. Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS.’
I could add many more to this list since you took over as health secretary from Andrew Lansley.
You have overseen the worst crisis in the history of the service and demoralised a generation of doctors. Since you became health secretary in September 2012, you have been misusing statistics as a way to impose the new junior doctor contract and, in doing so, you have misled the public and parliament.
Your statements about mortality and seven-day working in the NHS simply didn’t stack up. You have been economical with the truth by repeatedly attributing excess deaths to doctors not being available at weekends. I have no doubt that if you were a doctor you would be facing disciplinary action for your misinterpretation of data, and the impact it has had on patient care.
You were appointed by former Prime Minister David Cameron to detoxify Andrew Lansley’s reforms and keep the NHS out of the headlines. But your confrontational style has achieved the reverse. Under your watch, trolley waits in A&E are almost five times higher than in 2010, and timely access to primary care has become difficult if not impossible in many areas.
The only ’progress’ you have made in the last four and half years is to turn the NHS into NHS plc, increasingly drawing on public funds to line the pockets of wealthy venture capitalists or multinationals. The NHS, once the envy of the world, is already showing signs of cash fatigue and fragmentation, with no one accepting responsibility. There are 4 million people on NHS waiting lists – presenting a significant proportion of the population with the agonising prospect of waiting in pain.This is the story of your term as health secretary.
Under your stewardship, England’s major A&Es are under record strain with black alerts being regularly sounded, and in some instances wards turning patients away. Last year, the A&E crisis spread to other sectors. The most worrying aspect of your tenure as health secretary is delivering the lowest additional funding increase to the NHS in its history with a knock-on effect on patients in terms of treatment and facilities available. More than 13,000 beds have been closed, cutting the capacity of the NHS by 5 million a year. So bad is the state of affairs in mental health, that nine former health secretaries condemned the Government for failing to live up to its promises on mental health.
A failing NHS will only help to boost private healthcare insurance for those who can afford it, signalling the death knell for a universal healthcare service, free at the point of use. The moment of crisis many of us warned of has arrived and, unfortunately, I have no hope that the NHS can be retrieved from this state of affairs. It’s high time you should go, because the salvation of the NHS is a long-term challenge, and you show no serious commitment to finding long-term solutions. Your actions as health secretary have fallen below the standards one would expect of a health secretary, particularly your use of 'questionable statistics' - rightly highlighted by Stephen Hawking - as the basis for policies, and for 'alienating and decimating' whole branches of the medical profession, ‘such as junior doctors, nurses, consultants, paramedics and GPs’.
Who, other than you and your party, can disagree with Stephen Hawking? As he puts it: 'The NHS is Britain’s finest public service and a cornerstone of our society, something that binds us together. People value the NHS, and are proud that we treat everyone equally when they are sick. The NHS brings out the best in us. We cannot lose it.’
Professor Hawking has given us answers to many of the universe’s most challenging questions, and even he can’t work out why you, Mr Hunt, are still in your job. There is no doubt that you are the worst health secretary in the NHS’s history, and must go!
Dr Kailash Chand is a retired GP from Tameside and is Honorary Vice-President of the BMA