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article imageOp-Ed: UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gambles his future on the NHS

By John McAuliffe     Feb 14, 2016 in Politics
When Jeremy Hunt, British Health Secretary and member of the Tory Party, took to parliament on 11 February to announce the imposition of a contract on junior doctors, he cited high-level support he did not have and risked his future in politics.
The parliamentary session in question, in which Hunt took to his feat and announced new measures to be forced on junior doctors, was one of outrage for countless onlookers who support the junior doctors in their strike for better working conditions. It was seen as one more instance of a Tory assault on the National Health Service (NHS). As a high-ranking Tory official, Hunt could scarcely take the chance that these measures would not be imposed after all, lest the measures add to a growing embitterment of the Tory government over their string of seemingly hostile NHS policies.
Despite countless assurances that the Tory party would protect the NHS, there is widespread public concern for a possible privatisation. Andy Burnham, former Shadow Health Secretary for the Labour Party and recent party leadership contender voiced his concern as early as 2014, stating that Jeremy Hunt is carrying out "a mission to run down the National Health Service (to serve a) privatisation agenda." He identified that the Tory policies being implemented on the NHS that were absent from their manifesto, claiming that they undermine the public service of the NHS and encourage hospitals to make greater profits from private health care.
Jeremy Hunt's rebuttal sought to defend the plans, stating: "the real debate on health is not public versus private, but good versus poor care." He proceeded to attack Labour's reputation on healthcare, pointing out that 14 hospitals in Labour-governed areas are under special measures. Though stated in 2014, Labour-run areas have continuously suffered under the Tory government due to lack of funding rather than by incompetence, as Hunt implies. The Tory government still controls the funding for Labour-run local councils, and they have badly abused this power. In the latest round of fury, it has been announced the Tory government will provide wealthy Tory-run councils with 83 percent of a £300 million relief budget this year, while offering the worse-off Labour-run councils 5 percent. Under these plans, the NHS in Labour-run parts of Britain will have their woes exacerbated.
The lack of funding is partially responsible for the ongoing junior doctors strike, who are fighting for improved working conditions, including increased pay from the current £23,000, a reduced work-week, currently at a maximum of 91 hours, but most importantly, the rejection of a contract in England which would see them take a 30 percent pay cut. The controversy of the latest proposals put forward by Hunt is manifold. First, he responded to the medical community's rejection of forced contracts in England, which began the on-off strikes in 2012, with another attempt to force a contract on them in parliament. Secondly, he openly and comfortably fails to sympathise with the junior doctors' plight of astronomical working hours for meager pay. Thirdly, in his statement introducing the new forced contracts, he cited high level support of the medical community for the new measures in a letter of 20 signatories, 13 of which immediately withdrew after Hunt's political gamble in parliament. The support for his forced contract disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Junior Doctors strike for better working conditions and to oppose introduction of a bad contract  Fe...
Junior Doctors strike for better working conditions and to oppose introduction of a bad contract, February 2016.
Garry Knight
There is a fourth consideration for why Hunt was not suitable for the position of Health Secretary in the first place. He has a history as a beleaguered politician who seems to be able to weather major crises of his political career. His previous post was that of Culture Secretary, during which, he was submerged in a scandal of his own making. In 2012, just before Hunt's promotion to Health Secretary, he faced calls for his resignation for his role in overseeing a possible takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch. The scandalous part was Hunt's blatant bias in favour of Murdoch's takeover, even before he was appointed to oversee it. At the time, Murdoch and his staff at News International were under investigation by the Levison Inquiry into their illegal phone hacking of public figures and celebrities. Despite this, Hunt wrote strongly worded letters to Prime Minister David Cameron encouraging him to facilitate Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB. Instead, Hunt was given quasi-judicial oversight himself. The straw that broke the camel's back was a private text message sent by Hunt to James Murdoch, personally congratulating him on winning approval from the EU for News International's takeover of BSkyB with apparent support for a Murdoch monopolisation of the media in Britain. The text read: "Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go!" Ofcom is the British media regulator.
Instead of being shamed out of politics for employing illegal and manipulative measures that undermined the integrity of British media, Hunt was promoted by Cameron to Health Secretary, where he has once again become a beleaguered politician. Having an unhealthily close relationship with the elite powers of private enterprise may have facilitated his promotion once when dismissal from government seemed the only rational outcome, but even for the unshakable Tory and private elite now occupying government, friends can become liabilities if they harm their collective reputation too often. The question remains to be answered; will Hunt finally become the hunted?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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