Tom Richmond: Remedies for NHS must be made to work in practice

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AS Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has become one of the more quietly impressive Ministers and his measured approach to policy-making contrasts with the ranting and raving style of Labour’s Andy Burnham.

This job – one that many politicians have found to be a poisoned chalice – has helped restore Hunt’s reputation following the furore of his former special adviser’s over-enthusiastic support for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

A management consultant before teaching English in Japan, Hunt has overcome his lack of medical expertise by insisting that a slot is cleared in his diary each week for him to spend some time at a hospital – without the media being present – to see how the NHS works in practice.

This insight has helped him to become more authoritative and recognise, unlike the hysterical Burnham whose record remains so tainted by Mid Staffordshire and other care scandals, that the NHS needs to achieve more for less in the current financial climate.

Hunt’s latest remedy is improving the quality of out-of-hours care – and he used an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr to highlight how the broadcaster’s recovery from a stroke would not have been possible without the expertise of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and so on.

“If we don’t help to keep people healthy while they’re at home, they’re going to end up in hospital and that’s going to cost us even more money,” said Hunt.

The Minister is right. Most people do not want to be admitted to hospital and this explains why £2bn is being switched from hospital budgets to support community and social services.

Yet I worry that Hunt does not fully understand the dysfunctional state of many GP practices and the difficulty of obtaining appointments. This is one reason why patients end up in A&E with relatively minor ailments – at least they know that their condition will be assessed.

It is a mindset that needs to apply in general practice. Perhaps the Health Secretary would like to go undercover at the surgery that I use in Leeds – and which was lauded by Gordon Brown during the last general election campaign. If he did, he might discover that his words on out-of-hours care are little more than a sticking plaster solution and that he is going to have to be far prescriptive if his change of emphasis is to work in practice.

DAVID Blunkett made a thought-provoking intervention on education policy this week and challenged Labour to end Michael Gove’s “Kafkaesque” central control of schools.

His suggestions include bringing in new directors of school standards in every area who would have the power to intervene in under-performing schools.

The veteran Sheffield MP, Tony Blair’s first Education Secretary, also wants an independent director of school standards to oversee the creation of new schools so the interests of pupils come before political considerations.

Even though Blunkett was being slightly disingenuous when he blamed Gove, rather than Labour’s profligacy, for the woes in our classrooms, many will agree with the appointments that he proposes.

However the problem is that they’re likely to lead to additional tiers of bureaucracy at a time when policy-making and scrutiny needs to be more streamlined to improve its effectiveness.

My question to Blunkett is this: what tiers of officialdom will you sweep away so your changes can be introduced at no extra cost to the taxpayer?

IT’S not just the Tories who are already making excuses prior to the outcome of this month’s local and European elections.

The same applies to Labour after Tessa Jowell, a former Minister and ally of Tony Blair, naively suggested that these two polls will not engage with “real voters”.

Her comments followed reports that Ukip is prospering from discontent amongst Labour’s core supporters.

Yet Jowell’s comments must not go unchallenged. She should be trying to encourage more people to vote rather than denigrating those who will fulfil their democratic duty this month. Jowell’s arrogance is only likely to increase support for Nigel Farage.

TALKING of complacency, isn’t it time that the Tories told Boris Johnson to “put up or shut up” over his rumoured Parliamentary comeback?

To me, it looks like that the Mayor of London wants to be presented with a safe seat at the 2015 general election that will require little more than a token visit to keep the natives happy.

If Johnson thinks that he is such a great electoral asset, why doesn’t he contest one of the marginals that his party must win if it is to form an outright majority in 2015?

He could start with Newark where the Tories face a very difficult by-election after former soldier Patrick Mercer fell on his sword over cash for questions. Or Sheffield Hallam, the one-time Tory seat currently held by Nick Clegg.

The problem is that these would require Johnson to leave his Southern comfort zone and be prepared to be a full-time MP. At the moment he wants the best of both worlds, the mayoralty of London and a seat in Parliament.

A WORD of praise to the Northern Rail conductor on Monday’s 10.20am Leeds to Ilkley train who admonished two slouching passengers for putting their muddy feet up on the seats directly opposite where they were slumped.

It’s high time that the rail firms adopted a zero tolerance approach towards this slovenly selfishness, and they should not hesitate to ask miscreants to get off the train at the next station – and walk.