Tom Richmond: Grim prognosis for Jeremy Hunt over botched NHS dispute

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STRIKE or no strike next month by junior doctors, it is clear that Jeremy Hunt has lost the confidence of the medical profession and his continuing tenureship of the Department of Health is becoming a hindrance, rather than a help, to the NHS.

Though Mr Hunt looked the most relieved man in politics when the Chancellor promised to “front-load” the promised extra investment in the NHS in order to stave off the winter beds crisis, it does not detract from the breakdown in the relationship between his office and frontline staff.

Even though the British Medical Association accepts the need for contracts to be updated, the fact that 98 per cent of junior doctors voted for strike action shows the extent in which the Health Secretary has lost the argument.

This, after all, is a profession not renowned for its militancy and Mr Hunt’s handling of the dispute does not inspire confidence. Having rejected the involvement of the conciliation service Acas, he relented on Wednesday and sought the intervention of arbitrators as hospitals struggle to fill rotas if doctors withdraw their labour.

It does not end here – The Yorkshire Post has published an open letter from 77 GPs from the East Riding who accused the Cabinet minister of not paying sufficient regard to their concerns about the future of general practice in rural areas, including the disturbing fact that patients regularly have to wait for up to three weeks for appointments because vacancies cannot be filled.

Some context is required. This was not a personal attack on Mr Hunt’s integrity. Far from it. Their central argument was far more damning. It was that the Minister had stopped listening – and their disquiet can be measured by the 
fact that so many GPs put their names to the letter when it is, invariably, very difficult to get people to agree to both the content, and the tone, of such correspondence.

Yet, without the support of junior doctors and GPs, how can Mr Hunt expect to a recruit a new generation of medical trainees to the NHS?

The only alternative is an ever growing reliance on locum staff and a greater reliance on nurses trained overseas, both of which have been proven to be a false economy as the NHS deficit grows at a record rate.

It should not be like this when the NHS budget is due to rise to £120bn a year. If this is not enough money to ease the staffing shortfalls, it smacks of bad management at the Department of Health. That is why Mr Hunt is on borrowed time – he can only be effective as Health Secretary if he has the confidence of front line staff. And that is not going to happen this winter.

BRITAIN’S looming military intervention in Syria, the Strategic Defence and Security Review and Autumn Statement overshadowed one of David Cameron’s many pronouncements as he played the role of global statesman.

In a bylined article to preview £178bn of new defence investment, Mr Cameron wrote that Britain “will tackle the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism and refocus our aid budget to support fragile and broken states and regions”.

Given this, and budget restraints, why does the UK still have a Department for International Development when its work, and overheads, could easily be incorporated into the Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence?

THOUGH Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings continue to plummet, while a succession of Labour MPs stand up in the Commons to “welcome” Tory moves on Syria or the economy, it has been a truly terrible year for Chuka Umunna – the man who wanted to be Labour leader before his aborted campaign.

Having preached loyalty when he was Ed Miliband’s business spokesman, he’s now saying that Labour MPs will have to agree to disagree with Mr Corbyn over military intervention in Syria.

Because Mr Umunna is so fond of the sound of his own voice, this future star of Labour politics is already yesterday’s man as speculation grows that the unambitious Hilary Benn, the Leeds Central MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary, will become interim leader when Mr Corbyn is ousted.

I HOPE people stop knocking Nick Robinson’s cancer-stricken croaky voice on Radio Four’s flagship current affairs programme Today – it’s just refreshing to hear constructive and challenging interviews without the need for presenters to constantly interrupt guests.

AS I become increasingly uncomfortable with online giant Amazon’s business model and modus operandi, I’ve decided to make a greater effort to support high street bookshops and the like.

I just wish they would do more to actually help customers. On phoning my local branch of Waterstones to ask whether the store would be staying open until 8pm on Thursdays in the run-up to Christmas, I was told: “I don’t know.”

It makes you ask whether such stores deserve to stay in business if they cannot provide basic customer service at the busiest time of the year.

SIR Alex Ferguson made a profound point – he believes one of the catalysts for Manchester’s regeneration was the renaissance of the city’s two football teams because on-the-field success helps improve the morale, and performance, of fans. Please take note Massimo Cellino and Leeds Council... just think of the opportunities if Leeds United was not such a basket case.

YOU have to admire George Osborne as a political tactician – the Chancellor knows the North holds the key to his future place in history and he used the Autumn Statement to promise to bring rugby league’s World Cup back to these parts in 2021.

Given the next tournament is in Australia and New Zealand, the only other global powers when it comes to the 13-a-side game, it’s a win-win for the sport and for Mr Osborne who is determined, if he becomes Prime Minister, to win a general election in his own right – and unlike his one-time rival Gordon Brown in 2010.

MY acquaintance Gavin Sheehan, a Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey, enjoyed a success the other day on a horse called Big Society who showed great resolution. It’s just a shame that the same cannot be said of David Cameron’s well-intended policy by this name which fell at the first fence because of a lack of willpower.