Dear Mr Hunt
On Thursday night, in your acceptance speech, you accused me of “falsehoods”.
In your words, you accuse me of lying about “both our record with the NHS and also our motives”. You were clearly rattled that over 12,000 people in South West Surrey showed their concern for the NHS and voted for someone who questioned your record, but that is what democracy is all about – holding the government to account.
The truth is that I haven’t lied for the simple reason that I haven’t needed to. The facts speak for themselves.
When I talked about your record, I drew out many facts:
- The number of people lying on trolleys waiting more than 4 hours to be admitted to a hospital bed increased from 387,737 in 2015/16 to 560,108 in 2016/17 – that’s a 45% increase in one year. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that a trolley is one of the least safe places to be in the health care system or of the three patients who died in Worcestershire hospital on trolleys during last winter’s crisis?[i] The British Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis.”
- Ambulance response times, especially for the most urgent calls, are the worst since records began. The national target of reaching 75% of Category A calls within eight minutes has not been met for 32 consecutive months. [ii]
- Mental health services are struggling. Suicide is the commonest cause of death in boys age 5-16 yet children’s mental health services can’t cope with the volume of referrals and often there is not a single mental health bed anywhere in the country due to cuts to mental health provision. [iii]
- Performance against the 6-week cancer treatment target and the 18-week elective treatment target are deteriorating. [iv]
- Infant mortality is rising for the first time in years, having been rising for poorer children for a decade. [v]
- The Royal Society of Medicine attributed the 30,000 excess deaths in the winter of 2015 to cuts to health and social care. [vi]
- The NHS has fallen further down international league tables of mortality due to treatable causes. [vii]
None of these is a lie.
I also talked about the increasing privatisation for the NHS and your quote that “I am not privatising the NHS”. Was it a lie when I pointed out that the percentage of Dept of Health budget spent on for-profit providers rose by 25% in two years? [viii]
Perhaps it was my comments about funding that you felt were untrue. I said that the NHS had been underfunded and that future plans in the manifesto were insufficient. In fact, it was your government that was rebuked by the health select committee (including two Conservative MPs) for claiming that you’d be spending an extra £10 billion a year on NHS by 2020.[ix] They pointed out that a large proportion of this was taken from public health and doctor and nurse training budgets. Moving money around within a service to appear more generous than you actually are is fundamentally dishonest. [x]
In fact, your claim that you will be spending an extra £10bn per annum by 2020 compared with 2015 turns out to be only a £4.5 bn increase. This amounts to a 1.1% annual rise each year in the decade from 2010 -2020[xi], the biggest funding squeeze in NHS history and not even half of the 2.7% per annum forecast growth in need over that period, according to the NHS chief executive.[xii] As for the future, Prof Anita Charlesworth of the Health Foundation says that the promised extra funding for the NHS in the Conservative manifesto is far less than the NHS needs.[xiii]
Maybe you are accusing me of lying when I draw attention to NHS staff shortages and the disgraceful way you treat NHS staff:
- In 2015, Health Education England calculated that the NHS had 30,000 fewer full-time equivalent nurses than needed – equivalent to nearly one in 10 positions.[xiv]
- You have imposed a draconian pay cap on nurses meaning their pay will have been cut by 12% by 2020[xv]
- You have removed the bursary for student nurses, meaning many people who want to train to become a nurse can’t afford to do so[xvi]
- You have treated nurses and junior doctors with contempt. Record numbers are taking time off with stress because they fear that patients aren’t receiving the care they need[xvii] and 50% of nurses are considering leaving the profession because of this[xviii]
- In the recent NHS staff survey, 47% said current staffing levels were insufficient to allow them to do their job properly and 59% reported working unpaid overtime each week.[xix]
- Since your announcement in 2015 of 5,000 more GPs by 2020 we actually have fewer GPs now than two years ago! [xx]
In the election campaign I stated that your performance as Health Secretary is destroying the NHS, demoralising staff and risking patient safety. As you can see from the above, this is absolutely true.
Finally, you accused me of lying about your motives. I have no idea what your motives are for destroying our NHS, but I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt.
I have assumed that you are doing it deliberately – in order to run it down and provide an excuse for privatisation.
If I were you I’d accept that interpretation, because the alternative is that this has all been caused by your sheer incompetence.
Patients and NHS staff deserve better than this. The NHS is a great organisation and provides excellent care to most people most of the time, thanks to its dedicated and hardworking staff. But it is cracking at the seams and sometimes failing, due to the many pressures it is under. I am motivated by the desire to defend the NHS and raise the alarm about the dangers it faces from a continuation of Conservative policies. And as long as you are health secretary I will continue to hold you to account for what you are doing to the NHS.
Dr Louise Irvine
A very good summary of the facts. A magnificent performance in the election! “They don’t like it up ’em” as Lance Corporal Jones would have said! I would go as far as to say that the last Secretary of State who truly believed in the NHS was Frank Dobson and that was a long time ago (and New Labour hadn’t started investing while he did the job so he was a bit hamstrung – but I think he was generally trusted and even liked by most staff).
The problem with the NHS can be boiled down to two main things (Yes I know it’s very complicated if you want to include everything but….)
1) It is primarily finance-driven. If it were safety and quality driven it would be better AND in the end, cheaper,
2) The public are disempowered. They know it’s not right to close local acute services, for example, but the mergers and closures continue apace (by the way, there is NO evidence that acute trust mergers improve quality or save money in the short or long term and there are VERY FEW examples of specific diseases or situations where travelling a long distance improves outcome when like is compared with like AND lots of evidence (e.g. acute unsorted medical admissions, maternity, … that extra distance travelled is a detriment – but as you say, HMG does not follow the evidence or consider need; just the dogma/ideology or finance, or both).
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Has anyone ever investigated who the ‘private’ companies are, that were the PFI financiers of the hospital infrastructure building programme (and other government offices)? Reportedly they are now eating up the largest share of the govt. funding that is supposed to be going to run the NHS. I just wondered if it were possible for these agreements to be renegotiated or for the person in govt. who agreed them to be censured in some way?
The NHS is a valuable and essential service. The staff work tirelessly for the benefit of patients. What the Conservative are doing is criminal and they need to be held to account. They trick the public with false figures of spending that up front look substantial but they dont show them in context, now that’s a falsehood.
We cannot criticise the Citizens of USA for supporting Donald Trump as long as we ignore what the Tories are doing to the NHS. This is obviously a national disgrace and our press are not doing their job which must be to keep harping on about the facts. A similar failure occurred over the facts relating to Brexit, and we know where that ended up!
Thankyou Dr Irvine for standing up to Mr Hunt.The NHS is very under funded especially mental health.Good luck with your campaign!
I am old enough to remember the days pre NHS and how my mother called the Dr. in for me but couldn’t afford him for herself. Of course NHS and state education are not used by the Cabinet so if you can’t pay for them, tough! My daughter lives in South Africa and pays insurance to cover health care and all education has to be bought. Heaven forbid we go back to the good old days. Kate Lawrie.
What a great piece. Really spells it out in black and white, with incontrovertible figures, what’s really going on.
Thank you for this letter. I think it deserves to be read very widely and discussed. I am retired GP and palliative care physician and have no confidence in Jeremy Hunt . He has been dishonest and arrogant in his dealings with healthcare professionals. I am really sad to see the disinvestment in our NHS and also the lack of leadership on tackling the problems of an ageing population with increasing chronic disease and the lack of joined up social and health care. Please everybody lets get more vocal about the bad decisions being made. Dr Morag Salmon
I too remember the days of the man calling for the Drs pennies and would hate to see a return to treatment only for those who can afford to pay. My aunt in California tells horrific stories of the cost of hospitalization over there and we definitely don’t want that here.
I am disgusted at the Tory cuts and lies within the NHS.
Shutting down SHAs and PCTs to change the management and giving the money to GPs created a network of extra management within CCGs, far more than was in place in the SHAs, and what what the property management and maintenance services in the PCTs is now running as a for profit company called NHSPS because the government forgot that the SHAs and PCTs were also responsible for maintenance and repairs and rental contracts; contracts to which many GPs have still not signed up to and which cost the NHS tens of thousands per month in unrecovered income, far more than the cost of so called payment for hospital care for foreigners who run off and do not pay their bills..
Moral of all this. Don’t get sick/ill/hurt in England and Wales. I’m glad I stay in Scotland.
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