JEREMY Hunt is not a popular man and if you ask me he only has himself to blame. But let’s admit for a moment that there are two sides in any industrial dispute, and that both parties can be at fault at times.
Some newspapers have defended the Health Secretary, insisting he was right to impose his new contract on junior doctors: he’s the boss and that’s his right, they said in their leader columns, adding that the BMA had been after a fight and needed bringing to heel.
The trouble with this line is that Jeremy Hunt has behaved appallingly throughout the dispute with junior doctors. He has squirmed and shifted; he has massaged statistics to suit his argument; and he has blundered and blustered.
He has carried on like the worst sort of boss, bullying and blindly not listening; and insisting on the reasonableness of his argument while at the same time being completely unreasonable.
But he will get his comeuppance – and I don’t just mean all those mini-compilations on Facebook in which all the times his name has been comically mispronounced have been brought together for our general amusement. What’s the betting he will be removed quietly when the dispute is forgotten?
At the end of last week Jeremy Hunt announced that the new contract would now be imposed, whether junior doctors liked it or not. In support of this action, he suggested that health truth bosses around the country supported him – a statement which soon began to slip away.
One by one, the bosses of foundation hospital trusts up and down the land piped up to say that they didn’t necessarily support Hunt – and that they could not be forced to impose his deal on junior doctors, and would offer better deals locally.
So once again Jeremy Hunt was saying one thing, only for the opposite to be proved true.
It takes something for one man to have so catastrophically fall out with nearly all junior doctors. One of those he has infuriated is the daughter of a former Tory cabinet minister. Dr Hannah Mitchell wrote to a newspaper accusing Hunt of misusing statistics and alienating “an entire generation of junior doctors”, adding: “Health secretaries have come and gone, imposing measures of varying unpopularity, but not one has managed to alienate healthcare workers in the way he has.”
How true – the man is a disgrace and, I honestly worry, a threat to the NHS he claims to admire. Traditionally, the Conservatives have not been loved or trusted when it comes to the NHS. Maybe that antipathy isn’t entirely fair, but it is there for a reason.
Hunt’s dispute has been over a Tory manifesto pledge for a seven-day NHS – something which many doctors say already exists. One doctor’s wife wrote to a newspaper saying that if the NHS wasn’t operating at weekends, could Mr Hunt tell her where her husband had been every weekend for the past 17 years.
David Cameron habitually expresses his support and admiration for the NHS, and I guess we have to believe him. Yet some in his party disparage the NHS, including the MEP Daniel Hannan, who went on Fox News in the US some years ago to warn America not to make the same ‘catastrophic’ mistake as us by having a socialist health-care system.
Cameron later ticked off Hannan, insisting his views were “eccentric”. A mild telling off if ever there was.
But back to Jeremy Hunt. In an interview this morning, Mr Hunt says that the NHS “remains the single biggest reason why most people are proud to be British” – “Because we were the first country in the world to say it doesn’t matter who you are – rich or poor, young or old, north or south – you should have access to excellent healthcare and it should never be a question of your bank balance.”
Fine words and very true – but they don’t seem to chime with the way he has conducted himself during his protracted dispute with junior doctors. And like Cameron, Hunt can trundle out the worthy words when he needs to, but should we trust what he says? I’m afraid it’s still a ‘no’ from me.