When Jeremy Hunt was promoted to Health Secretary I was one of the first to write that this was an inspired appointment. Rather a lot of people tweeted suggesting that this was proof that I should be sent off to the Priory for a long holiday. But I might just have been right.
The contrast between Hunt and Lansley is stark. Andrew is a thoroughly decent man who cares about the NHS, but he is a technocrat and speaks like one. His is the world of outcomes, management structures and bureaucracies. On planet Hunt the emphasis is rather different. Care, compassion; getting better. I watched him on Marr this morning. Calm, professional and believable.
Hunt’s great asset is unflappability. A few months ago he was written off as an almost certain piece of reshuffle road kill because of his closeness to Murdoch during the SKY bid. For a while it looked like curtains. But he kept calm, behaved with dignity when the press goat fuck was in full cry and most important of all, kept the heat off of Cameron. Who better humanise the health service?
The trouble is that we have all worshipped at the feet of the NHS for so long that we have become blinded to the harsh reality that in some respects they are made of clay. What horrified and shocked me about the Francis report was an almost an endemic institutionalised lack of compassion. That the old and the frail were left begging for water and being left to fester in the indignity of their own filth is nothing short of a national disgrace. And now it has come to light that this was not just at Staffs but far,far more widespread. Churchill once said that a measure of society’s civilisation was the way they treated their prisoners. That yardstick has changed. If we as a nation were judged on the way we treated our old and vulnerable we would be in the stone ages.
The left would argue that this is because nurses are under resourced because of government cuts. This is a very dangerous lie. The Staffs scandals happened at a time when Brown was throwing money at the NHS with the gay abandon of a drunken sailor. What snookers Andy Burnham the charming but rather ineffective shadow health secretary is that this all happened on Labour’s watch.
I am still of the belief that our health service is wonderful. The care that my ninety two year old mum receives up in Scotland is a model of good practice and compassion. But it is a post code lottery for many.
I suspect that there is no simple solution to the problem unless the ethos is to hire people who put care and compassion above everything else. There is too much box ticking to feed the insatiable Whitehall monster’s lust for statistics. And now for something which will cause the left to squeal and howl and condemn me from the roof tops. So let me take a deep breath. There are too many overseas nurses who regard nursing not as a caring profession but as a handy means to send money back home. They must be weeded out.
I suspect that it is no coincidence that on the back of the Francis report the government has finally plucked up courage and put forward sensible plans to ensure that that our elderly no longer have the fear of losing their cherished homes which they wish to pass on to their loved ones. Why Labour ignored this very obvious reform stills fills me with incredulity.
So what do people want? It really is a no brainer. They want and deserve a health service that works for them when they need it. That they don’t have the terror of finding the cash to pay for it. And that the old and the vulnerable live out the rest of their lives warm, well fed and with dignity. But no matter what policies are put though and no matter the good intentions of ministers, a health service is not worthy of its name unless every thought and every deed of every day and every night has care and compassion at the forefront.
Jeremy Hunt has understood an obvious but long overlooked certainty in politics. Who cares wins.