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The country knows that the NHS is in crisis. They feel it when they go see their GP, take a trip to hospital or attend routine tests. They can also hear it in the press. Junior Doctors strikes have driven the staffing crisis into the public consciousness whilst a number of embarrassing leaks prove they have a point. How do you manage this, as a politician, without ruining your reputation? Well, if you’re Jeremy Hunt, you attack those reporting on it.
A series of letters between Hunt and the BBC have been released by the information commissioner. Hunt’s four letters, covering 2014 and 2015, to the corporation’s head of news accuse the BBC of “inaccurate and damaging” coverage. He claims they have endorsed Labour’s argument and display a lack of impartiality.
Given the BBC’s rather supine attitude to the Tory elections fraud scandal since, it seems he might have cowed them into submission.
Of course, it seems unfair to accuse a Secretary of State for Health of a mixture of rank incompetence and paranoia but Hunt is doing his best to make it inevitable. His handling of the Junior Doctor’s strike has been consistent but vapid, yielding criticism from all quarters.
This criticism received several recent boosts following a series of leaks. First was a risk register that confirmed the Junior Doctors’ worries and accused the Health Secretary of being “unhelpful.” Despite this he has continued to repeat these criticisms. More recently the Mirror has reported that Hunt failed to attend a single NHS crisis meeting. But who expects the Health Secretary to do his job?
The missed meetings occurred during the 2015/2016 period where Hunt was publicly discussing a 7 day NHS and condemning the Junior Doctors’ strike. Perhaps if he had attended one of the 7 meetings he may have understood the challenges facing the NHS and perhaps changed his rhetoric.
Hunt’s concerns focused on a “serious and damaging” article that the NHS had failed to meet A&E waiting targets. Which was true, they were the Government’s own targets. There was also an accusation about the fairness of an article on a £2billion funding black hole using statistics from a Government commissioned report.
Hunt’s letters at no point provide statistics to dispute the BBC reports. Instead they focus on his own interpretations of the information, so it’s no wonder he is “unhelpful.”
This is clear evidence that Hunt has tried to use his position in Government to strong arm the BBC into reporting things his way. His comments focusing on the corporation’s impartiality, particularly around the time of charter renewal, can be seen as nothing more than implicit threats.
This feeling is compounded by the Department of Health’s efforts to keep the letters secret. A Freedom of Information request was previously denied, necessitating the information commissioner’s intervention.
Hunt is clearly unfit for his post. His rhetoric has been so appalling that his own department call him “unhelpful.” He has failed to attend meetings discussing the crisis he has caused. And he has routinely criticised Junior Doctors for being workshy, but has failed to attend his own job.
Rather than accepting this and honourably resigning he has tried to suppress criticism and then, when this failed, suppress his suppression. His lack of transparency and blatant efforts to corrupt a public service broadcaster deserve nothing less than his resignation.
I know a few doctors who may be happy to receive it.