It’s been a tricky month or so for Matt Hancock. The health secretary had an auspicious start to his tenure, with the media widely reporting his claims that his background in tech had given him a unique insight into the problems the NHS has with its computer systems.
This pedestalisation of his 1337 skillz confuses me somewhat. You don’t need to be Steve Jobs to know that most NHS IT is clunky, outmoded and unfit for purpose; you could install the Earl of Greystoke as health secretary and he’d be all like ‘RAZ-OR. RA-ZOR. MIR-ROR. MIR…hang about, is that a frickin…FAX MACHNE? What are you guys, Amish or something?’
Nonetheless Mr Hancock garnered plaudits from pundits and colleagues alike for hitting the ground running, and even yours truly was prepared to give him a chance. So it was unexpected to see the alleged tech genius come unstuck through his use of social media.
In a swiftly-deleted-when-it-all-went-Pete-Tong tweet, the health secretary boasted that ‘terrific figures out today’ showed GP numbers had increased by 1,000 since July, but he made the schoolboy error of linking to the source data. It didn’t take much digging for literally every single doctor on the internet to figure out he was telling porkies. In fact, the numbers of whole-time equivalent GPs are down, and the apparent increase of 1,000 is based on a new way of counting locums, retainers and trainees that NHS Digital SPECIFICALLY STATED should not be compared with previous figures.
It was unexpected to the alleged tech genius come unstuck through social media
This is bad enough, but the government’s definition of ‘GP trainees’ now includes freshly-qualified foundation doctors rotating through an arbitrary GP placement with zero plans to ever work in primary care again. This is not merely counting one’s chickens before they are hatched; it’s inviting the public out for an all-you-can-eat Nando’s then serving up a bowl of frogspawn.
A slapdown from the Office of National Statistics might give pause to lesser men, but not Tech Boy, who doubled down on his Twitter success by immediately appearing as the centrefold in an advertorial pull-out sponsored by Babylon in the Evening Standard.
Ordinarily this apparent contravention of the Ministerial Code might be enough to garner Mr Hancock a P45, but loyal cabinet ministers are in such short supply right now it seems likely it will go unsanctioned.
Why does it matter what Matt Hancock says? We’re staring down the barrel of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, and the prospect that NHS England will approach the task of safeguarding the distribution of lifesaving medicines with the same seamless planning that turned the hitherto unproblematic annual flu vaccination campaign into a total goat rodeo.
Whatever happens, this is going to require proper, grown-up leadership. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could believe a word that the person supposedly providing it is saying?
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey