I used to live with a guy who had a fantastic tactic he’d deploy on the (not infrequent) occasions he arrived two hours late for work, red-eyed, unshaven, and smelling like Shane McGowan’s recycling bins. Rather than try and sneak by unnoticed, he’d stride in past the warehouse manager with hands aloft, palms forward, eyebrows raised and a breezy smile on his face, and loudly proclaim ‘Don’t shoot the messenger!’ before starting work without further discussion. This preposterous technique was surprisingly successful, creating as it did an entirely false but psychologically disarming dichotomy between the knuckling-down-to-make-the-best-of-this-unfortunate-situation-he-finds-himself-in-through-no-fault-of-his-own Steve in front of you now, and the entirely separate necking-Jägerbombs-with-abandon-at-four-am-on-a-school-night Steve who should surely carry any blame for this frightful imbroglio, if only anyone could find him.
I was reminded of Steve’s excuse this week when Sir Robert Francis, author of the report into the Mid-Staffs care scandal, warned that current financial pressures on the NHS meant that a repeat of the situation was ‘inevitable’. The health secretary is familiar with Mid-Staffs, having mentioned the ill-fated trust so frequently over the past four years that his speech-writers must have it as a keyboard shortcut. Whether this represented a heart-felt attempt to push the patient safety agenda or a political stick with which to beat his predecessors while distracting from the NHS’s current problems is open to debate; one might generously conclude it was a fortuitous intersection of both. How, then, would Jeremy respond to Sir Robert’s warning, coinciding with the worst A&E figures for 13 years, that Mid-Staffs II was about to drop on his watch?
Mr Hunt fixed the interviewer with his trademark doe eyes and agreed that no excuses could be made, and that the failings in care were unacceptable, but the Government had systems in place to improve primary care and social services. And do you know, he almost sounded reasonable. It made me wonder how things would be if we’d only had him in charge for the last four years, instead of the joker who’d systematically pulverised all goodwill out of the medical workforce, who’d gleefully voted for austerity policies that decimated social care provision, who’d dismissed the multiple patient safety warnings from the junior doctors who had to camp outside his office because he’d refused to meet them in public? What would that guy have to say for himself when Reasonable Jeremy got his hands on him?
Oh yeah: ‘Don’t shoot the messenger!’
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson