In 2005, Jeremy Hunt co-wrote a policy book that advocated privatising the NHS – and since becoming Health Secretary, he has followed its recommendations to the letter. But things are not going to plan.
In 2005, a group of Tory MPs, frustrated at being consigned to the opposition benches by successive Labour governments, wrote a soul-searching pamphlet on the future direction of the Conservative party. Direct Democracy: An Agenda For A New Model Party (pdf) argued, among other things, for the end of central government accountability for our public services:
Yet what is needed is not the accountability of services to central government – precisely the error of the Attlee settlement whose failed systems we still inhabit. Accountability must be direct, democratic and local.
In the chapter on the health service, the authors made it clear they were not fans of the NHS (page 74):
The problem with the NHS is not one of resources. Rather, it is that the system remains a centrally run, state monopoly, designed over half a century ago.
In fact, they thought it was “fundamentally broken” (page 80):
Instead of tinkering with a fundamentally broken machine, [The Conservative party] should offer to update the model, setting out, in warm and optimistic tones, its vision of a healthier Britain.
The solution, of course, was privatisation (page 74):
We should fund patients, either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice. The poor and unemployed would have their contributions supplemented or paid for by the state.
And privatisation included the “denationalisation” of the health service (page 78):
Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain, so extending to all the choices currently available only to the minority who opt for private provision.
The book does not state which MPs wrote which chapters and Jeremy Hunt has, in the past, denied writing the chapter on the NHS, claiming it does not reflect his views.
But during his time as Health Secretary, he has carried out the chapter’s recommendations to the letter.
Hunt has overseen the implementation of the 2012 Health & Social Care Act which, at a stroke, removed accountability for the NHS from the Secretary of State for Health, denationalised our healthcare system and opened up a large chunk of our health provision to private corporations. He has even questioned the entire funding model of the NHS, suggesting it cannot remain entirely taxpayer-funded in the long term.
According to the policy book he co-authored, Hunt’s actions so far should have brought the NHS to a rosy place (page 79):
Competition would drive up standards. It would produce better outcomes, with faster adoption and diffusion of new medical techniques and drugs. It would result in better working conditions for staff, who would have employers competing to employ them, knowing that success would be dependent on satisfying the patient and not meeting government targets. And it would provide better value for money, since health care costs would be driven by the most efficient providers.
The reality though, is that Hunt’s policies have brought the NHS to its knees. Junior doctors are in open warfare with the government. GPs are leaving the profession in droves. The ones who remain are threatening mass resignations. Privatisation has led to routine conflicts of interest. Over a third of students no longer want to study medicine. Hospitals are being forced to take out loans just to pay wages. And exhaustion and psychological distress are pushing doctors to suicide.
The book contained another deeply flawed bit of thinking. It assumed that the British people were fed up with the NHS, it read:
The Conservative Party, should articulate the country’s desire for a proper overhaul of the [National Health] system.
And this assumption may end up being Hunt’s undoing. Far from being fed up with it, it turns out Britain loves our NHS, fiercely. And we love our junior doctors too. What we are really fed up with, polls suggest, is Jeremy Hunt.
-Tweet your support for junior doctors using the #JuniorDoctors hashtag.
-Sign the official petition against the Junior Doctors’ Contract, which expires in March 2016.
-Sign the petition to Save Our NHS.
-Help to stop the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a treaty that will open the NHS up to total privatisation.
Featured image via Howard Lake/Flickr