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Jeremy Hunt appointed chair of the health and social care committee

Jeremy Hunt has been elected as chair of the health and social care committee, taking over from former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston. 

The former health secretary, who was in post from 2012 to 2018, was appointed as chair of the House of Commons’ committee on 29 January after winning an election by ballot. 

Mr Hunt, who was the longest-serving health secretary, said he believes his experience of the NHS makes him ‘best placed to ask the searching questions that will truly hold the Government to account’.

In his prior role in the cabinet, Mr Hunt failed to deliver his pledge of bringing 5,000 more GPs into the workforce – a committment he made in 2015, with the aim of achieving it by 2020.

Instead, the latest workforce figures, from September 2019, show there has been a decrease of 1,088 fully-qualified full-time equivalent GPs since September 2015.

Mr Hunt also introduced the controversial new junior doctors’ contract, which led to medical staff going on strike, and presided over the removal of bursaries for student nurses and other allied health professionals, causing a drop in applications to university courses.

His new role as committee chair will be to scrutinise NHS and government policies and hold public officials to account.

In a series of tweets, he said his priority will be to focus on securing funding to fix the social care crisis and achieving progress in mental health.  

He said: ‘Over nearly a decade in frontline politics, the NHS has always been my greatest political passion, and I am honoured to have been elected chair of the health and social care select committee.

‘For my last six months as health secretary, social care was formally added to my responsibilities but it was not long enough to bring forward reforms or – more crucially – a funding settlement for social care.

‘That is what I will be pressing for, because the NHS will continue to fall over every winter until we fix social care, risking both patient safety and staff morale.’

He added: ‘l’ll also focus on making faster progress on mental health and patient safety; recent maternity scandals show we can never be complacent. I look forward to working with my committee to provide a strong, independent voice that supports NHS staff and patients in a very pressured period.’

Commenting on his appointment, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Doctors across the UK are currently working under immense strain and Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary, knows this better than most.

‘The BMA has in the past made emphatically clear to him the intense pressures affecting doctors and how these – such as a lack of resources and dwindling workforce – have profoundly impacted on them and ultimately, the care they are able to give to patients.’

He continued: ‘In his new role, Mr Hunt now has the opportunity to move beyond party politics and ensure the health and social care committee does all it can to ensure that the NHS is properly resourced, so that hardworking doctors and healthcare professionals are able to deliver on the needs of their patients.’

But the BMA’s former council deputy chair, Dr Kailash Chand said Mr Hunt’s appointment represented a conflict of interest, because ‘there are so many things that he did or started as health secretary, which need to be scrutinised’. 

He said: ‘There is a conflict of interest. It’s like putting a vampire in charge of a blood bank. 

‘During his time, the number of GPs reduced and now [health secretary] Matt Hancock is promising 6,000 more GPs. How is he going to push that and make sure Hancock delivers that?’