If Jeremy Hunt were a doctor he’d be facing the General Medical Council’s (GMC) Fitness to Practice panel for his misleading claims on mortality and seven-day NHS working. He has been economical with the truth, using selective information publicly without being clear about its source, and repeatedly attributing excess deaths to doctors not being available at weekends. A leaked report from his own department confirms that it is unable to prove that fuller staffing would lower mortality rates of weekend-admitted patients.
Mr Hunt was ’repeatedly warned’ there was no evidence to link the deaths to problems with staff shortages. Britain’s top health professional and the BMA, publically rebuked Mr Hunt of ’misrepresenting statistics’ to justify his seven-day NHS. And they warned claims like his have already harmed patients because they are putting people off seeking help on the weekend.
Jeremy Hunt has managed to insult and alienate NHS staff across the board
Mr Hunt was appointed to detoxify Andrew Lansley’s reforms, and keep the NHS out of the headlines. His particular brand of confrontational micromanagement has achieved exactly the reverse. It now appears, he was appointed to promote the destabilization of the NHS and for it to fail.
Under his watch the number of GPs working in England fell by 600 between 2014 and last year. To be precise this was – from 34,700 to 34,100 – a 2% drop. The trolley waits in A&E have trebled in the last three years and timely access to primary care has become difficult if not impossible in many areas. Only 19 out of 136 acute trusts met the headline standard, for 95% of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within four hours last year.
The growing number of GPs quitting the profession, and difficulty persuading enough medical graduates to train as GPs to meet recruitment targets, meant his pledge of delivering 5,000 GPs is unlikely to succeed.
The morale of the NHS family is at rock bottom. Their pay has been frozen under his administration, and they have been forced to accept a major downgrading of their pension benefits.
Once the envy of the world, the NHS is already showing signs of cash fatigue, fragmentation and disintegration with no-one accepting or being able to accept responsibility, and indeed with chaos at the top of the organisation and no ownership of who the buck should stop with, is the story of his term as secretary of state for health.
We are steadily being driven blindfolded to a US-style insurance-based scheme, divorced from high quality, safe care. Mr Hunt, backed by new Prime Minster, Theresa May, is putting cash before lives, with an obsession on so called ’cost efficiency’, disregarding the safety of patients, struggling hospitals and general practices in the process.
He has managed to insult and alienate NHS staff across the board. To lose a large swath of junior doctors in the early stages of their careers would be a disaster for the NHS. And the number of doctors, both GPs and consultants, who are considering retiring early is staggeringly high and a huge worry for the NHS and patient care. The health service could be left with a shortage of clinicians, with the remaining doctors spread too thinly. This has huge implications for recruitment and retention for the medical profession. We will have fewer staff in an even less safe NHS.
I have no doubt, if Mr Hunt was a doctor, he would be facing disciplinary action for his misinterpretation of data, and the impact on patient care. It’s high time that Ms May’s Government ends it’s obsession with seven-day NHS, sack Mr Hunt, and call for a public enquiry to find out why Mr Hunt contravened his civil servants’ advice and to ascertain whether he has misled parliament and public.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP and former deputy chair of BMA council