Jeremy Hunt’s appointment to the treasury was applauded by Conservative Party colleagues who consistently referred to his experience in Government and temperament as exactly what was required for the current economic climate.
NHS Providers Chief Executive Saffron Cordery also welcomed the appointment of a Chancellor who she referred to as a “a strong advocate of a long-term, fully costed and fully funded national plan to help the NHS attract and keep the staff it so desperately needs”.
While Cordery is right that those working in the NHS and social care should take some comfort in Hunt’s recommendations as chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, they would also do well to reflect on his legacy as the longest serving Secretary of State for Health in the history of the NHS.
While the situation that Hunt inherited from Andrew Lansley was hardly rosy, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Hunt oversaw one of the most challenging periods in NHS modern history. So much so, that even Hunt admits that he’s “not sure the NHS would want him back” and takes “complete responsibility” for the inability of the NHS to boost GP recruitment during his time in office.
Testifying to his lasting legacy, 50,000 Junior Doctors are currently considering strike action in January over the very contracts they signed while Hunt was Health Secretary. With this in mind, 2023 looks set to begin with a stand-off over the future of the NHS which will either see Hunt defend the very contracts he signed, or rip them up entirely.
When comparing Hunt’s statements as Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee against his track record in the Department of Health and Social Care, it would be easy to be sceptical of his recent calls for long term workforce planning and massively increased funding for social care.
However, we would do well to remember that government is defined much more by the reality of a given political situation rather than well intentioned recommendations.
With the fiscal statement later this week in mind, it will be interesting to see whether we see more of Hunt the Health Minister or more of Hunt the Committee Chair behind the ballot box. In all likelihood, we will end up seeing neither, as the Chancellor that emerges will inevitably be defined far more by the perilous economic circumstances faced by the country.
It is entirely likely that the NHS will have to look within rather than to the Government if it is to maintain, let alone improve services.
Introducing novel technologies in the NHS plays a vital function in supporting NHS staff, improving health outcomes and delivering efficiencies. Failure to realise this potential could lead to stagnation in patient care and will feed into Hunt’s troubled legacy.