Our NHS is facing a sustained attack under Jeremy Hunt. Yet he's been just promoted. Keith Taylor MEP looks at the reasons.
This week’s reshuffle will go down as one where a weak and wobbly Prime Minister failed to reassert any power over her party. But among Theresa May’s non-changes, one really sticks in the throat.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary responsible for pushing our NHS into a deadly and unprecedented crisis, has been promoted. Despite the PM’s reported plans to shift Hunt away from the Department of Health, he refused to shift and even convinced May to expand his portfolio.
Hunt’s time as Health Secretary has been an abject failure. But the Conservative government still believes he is doing a good job – and, as much as his failures, that fact should terrify us all.
His failures, however, are many:
1. Capacity in hospitals across England are at breaking point: many are operating at 100% bed occupancy
2. Doctors are under increasing pressure to discharge patients too soon, while almost 17,000 patients a week are being forced to wait in ambulances because of the chronic bed shortage
3. During his tenure, Jeremy Hunt has slashed 15,000 NHS beds, which has reduced England’s hospital capacity by five million patients a year
4. The Health Minister has forced on our NHS cuts of £22bn, in the guise of ‘savings’
5. Funding levels have dropped to a low not seen since the 1950s
7. In just the four months before the latest NHS crisis began to bite, 31 hospital units, nine GP surgeries, seven mental health units, six A&E departments, six walk-in centres, and four maternity units, among others, were forced to close
8. It has been almost three years since A&E departments, under Jeremy Hunt, met their target to see patients within four hours of arrival
9. In the face of real-term pay cuts and the scrapping of nursing bursaries, the NHS is currently short of 40,000 nurses, and there has been a 10% increase in unfilled vacancies across the whole of the service
10. Despite Jeremy Hunt’s promise to recruit 5,000 more GPs, there are now more than 1,200 fewer than when he took office
The situation is so dire it has moved NHS chiefs to resign, simply to raise their concerns over hospitals’ ability to survive.
Hunt’s ‘success’, however, isn’t in the dire situation staff and patients find themselves in, but in the buoyant mood private healthcare firms continue to enjoy.
The privatisation of our NHS has soared with Jeremy Hunt at the helm, with Hunt forcing an increasingly fragmented and marketised internal structure on our health service – one which now sucks an estimated 10% of its entire budget away from patient care and towards a private healthcare bureaucracy.
Last year, private healthcare firms scooped almost 70% of all the clinical contracts that were put out to tender by the NHS. More than £3bn of contracts were handed over to private firms, a big jump on the previous year.
Virgin Care alone, which last month sued the NHS in Surrey after it awarded an NHS contract to NHS providers, ended 2017 with a £1bn haul of NHS contracts. And with plans for American-style so-called ‘Accountable Care Organisations’, the situation will deteriorate.
Jeremy Hunt not only has links with the private healthcare industry, he literally (co-)wrote the book on the Conservatives’ plans to run down the NHS – growing the private healthcare market in order to introduce an Americanised insurance-based healthcare model for Britain. It is in this pursuit that Hunt has been successful.
Hunt isn’t in his job because he’s delivering for patients: he manifestly isn’t. He’s in the job because he is successfully running down our NHS, and handing large parts of it over to private firms – while giving his ideological colleagues the space to challenge the premise of a truly public, universal, free-at-the-point-of-entry healthcare service.
He has just been given free-rein to do the same with our social care sector too. As a politician, I’m scared for the future of our NHS. As a patient, I am terrified.
Keith Taylor is Green Party MEP for the South East of England