Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had emerged unscathed from a public petition of 220,000 people calling for his removal from this critical Cabinet position.
Unite, the country’s largest union, had encouraged members of parliament from all political parties to back a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Health Secretary.
Jeremy Hunt, the current Conservative secretary of health, has been central in the announcement of the highly publicised seven-day NHS plan, which has received the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron.
MPs this week debated the issue in Parliament, while Hunt also appeared before a Select Committee to defend his record as Health Secretary.
But The Guardian newspaper reported that Hunt gave a very confident performance before the committee, while the motion in parliament was defeated.
Despite this development, the Unite union continues to strongly criticise the performance of Hunt.
Indeed, Barry Brown MP, who strongly backed the Unite initiative, suggested that Hunt is in fact “one of the worst health secretaries since the NHS was formed in 1948”.
Brown also suggested that plans related to seven-day NHS services were fundamentally flawed, and that Hunt had in fact failed to understand the existing NHS culture.
The MP stated that he considers Hunt to be “the Health Secretary who has been more critical of health service staff since the creation of the NHS than any of his predecessors, yet now he pushes for seven-day services from staff whose value and commitment he clearly questions at nearly every opportunity.”
Brown also suggested that Hunt was guilty of significant hypocrisy with regard to his stance on NHS pay.
“Hunt’s relentless push for seven-day services – which are already there – is set against the background of not only being the richest member of David Cameron’s cabinet, but the one who denies a one per cent pay increase to NHS staff by rejecting the recommendations from the respected independent pay review body,” Brown opined.
While the Unite union has been extremely negative about the performance of the Conservative Health Secretary, it has taken a much more positive view over the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
In the opinion of Unite, Corbyn has taken a principled position on the NHS, and his attitude to politics has inspired both young and old folk alike.
However, it should be said in mitigation that the Unite support for Corbyn, and indeed arguably its opposition to Hunt, may not be considered entirely surprising.
Corbyn is almost ubiquitously referred to as a left-wing socialist, drawn from the traditional stock of the Labour party, which always enjoyed strong links with trade unions.
Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that the elevation of Corbyn to the position of Labour leader can help stimulate a valuable debate on the future of the health service.
As part of the process of his taking over the leadership of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a shadow “Minister for Mental Health”.
Luciana Berger is the new addition to the Corbyn shadow cabinet.
Berger will have a remit to specifically focus on mental health issues, and consider how the NHS can tackle them more effectively in the immediate future.
A Corbyn-led Labour government would apparently prioritise this issue, as evidenced by the fact that this post is a new creation of Corbyn’s shadow administration.
There is no equivalent to position within the Conservative government.
Aside from the uniqueness of the position, it is also notable that this shadow cabinet role will be carried out by a female member of Parliament.
Corybn was keen to emphasise in a statement that the Labour party had “delivered a unifying, dynamic, inclusive new Shadow Cabinet which for the first time ever has a majority of women. I am delighted that we have established a Shadow Cabinet position for mental health which is a matter I have long been interested in.”
Berger is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and was elected initially to the seat in 2010. She is notable for having created a film entitled ‘Breadline Britain’, examining food poverty within the UK and its implications.
To demonstrate his commitment to mental health, Corbyn spent his first day as leader attending a fundraiser organised by Camden & Islington NHS Mental Health Trust; his local trust.
In addition, Corbyn has demonstrated in parliamentary speeches before becoming leader of the Labour Party that mental health is a subject of some importance to him.
In a speech in Parliament in February, Corbyn outlined his attitude to mental health and why he considered the subject of critical importance.
“All of us can go through depression; all of us can go through those experiences. Every single one of us in this Chamber knows people who have gone through it, and has visited people who have been in institutions and have fully recovered and gone back to work and continued their normal life,” Corby stated.
“I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one Prime Minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions,” the Labour leader continued.
Bergen will be asked to concentrate on ensuring that treatment is delivered in a timely and appropriate fashion.
Corbyn also stated that processes involved in the recognition of mental disabilities within the Department for Work and Pensions would be refined under a Labour government.
The shadow cabinet has been announced by Corbyn as he continues to put in place the structure that will form the parliamentary Labour party under his tutelage.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has responded strongly to recent suggestions from the government that the NHS should develop a seven-day-a-week culture.
Prime Minister David Cameron asserted earlier this week that by the end of the decade the whole UK population will have access to general practitioners from Monday to Sunday.
But the RCGP suggested that the aims of the government are completely unachievable in the current parliament, and could even result in existing care being destabilised.
In order to achieve its lofty goal, ministers have promised that 5,000 extra doctors will be recruited to the NHS.
However, RCGP president Maureen Baker asserts that any additional recruitment would be largely consumed by filling gaps in the existing workforce.
Encouraging the government to rethink their approach to the whole issue, Baker stated that vacancy rates within the GP profession were likely to be in the region of 10% per cent.
There are no official figures available to either contradict or confirm this impression.
Baker suggested that the NHS doesn’t have “the nurses and the support staff to do the hours we’re already contracted to do, never mind extend those. Therefore, frankly, 08:00 to 20:00, seven days a week for routine general practice is unachievable.”
Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that the president of the RCGP was of the opinion that continuing with the government’s plans in the existing climate could cause serious problems.
“The danger is that in order to provide services over those extended hours, that you destabilise other parts of the service. You’re fishing from the same pool, so if those doctors are attracted into that work, instead of out-of-hours service for instance, then there’s a risk that you destabilise the out-of-hours service so that people can come and have routine care on a Sunday teatime,” Baker asserted.
While the picture related to GPs in the UK is complicated and difficult to measure accurately, perhaps the most reasonable way to assess it is to make reference to the official GP survey carried out by Ipsos MORI for NHS England.
The results of this poll did suggest that waiting times are becoming an increasing issue with regard to GPs.
Although 75 per cent of respondents were satisfied with their GPs opening hours, this represented a fall of nearly 5 percentage points since the previous survey.
Nonetheless, the British Medical Association has also questioned the government’s policy, stating its belief that investment should be concentrated on existing services.
Despite a climate related to the issue that can reasonably be described as contentious, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has nonetheless signalled the intention of the government to press forward with seven-day GP opening.
Hunt indicated that he is absolutely focused on making the policy happened, and was undeterred by the criticisms from the likes of the RCGP.
As the debate about the government’s seven-day NHS plans rumbles on, senior figures from the NHS have voiced their support for the scheme.
NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh described the case for GPs being available to patients at weekends as “simply unassailable”.
Keogh particularly cited research to which he’d contributed that suggested that the so-called ‘weekend effect’ was responsible for 11,000 excess deaths each year.
However, sceptics of the study have questioned how many of these deaths were actually avoidable.
The study published in the British Medical Journal claims that the findings of the researchers raises “challenging questions” about the existing NHS culture.
Keogh was one of seven leading doctors and statisticians that contributed to the research, which extensively examined hospital records during 2013-14.
The report adds to earlier research that was published three years ago.
During the period studied, nearly 16 million patients were admitted to hospitals, and an apparent weekend effects was identified by their researchers.
Admission to hospital on a Friday night to wait 2 per cent increase risk of death, with the figure of a 10 per cent on Saturdays and 15 per cent on Sundays.
This effectively equated to 11,000 access deaths over the course of a single year. Other factors such as patient health and history were also taking into consideration.
Based on the data acquired by the survey, Keogh believes that there is a compelling case for action, and that a new seven-day culture should be instigated in the NHS as suggested by the government.
Keogh even suggested that the current situation is simply unacceptable.
“Doctors up and down the country routinely go the extra mile, well beyond any contractual duty, to save and improve lives. But the idea that patients are being harmed because of the way we organise our services is quite simply beyond what any of us can regard as acceptable,” Keogh asserted.
“The moral and social case for action is simply unassailable and there is widespread clinical consensus about that. Change always brings practical difficulties that must be tackled but we cannot duck the facts,” Keogh continued.
Although emergency care and accident and emergency units are available at the weekend, staffing levels are typically significantly lower than during the week.
However, despite the assertions of Keogh, key medical leaders are still sceptical about the proposals of the government.
In particular, BMA leader Dr Mark Porter Express explicit concerns about the logistical problems involved with changing the NHS culture so radically.
“Given the current funding squeeze on NHS Trusts, the only way for many hospitals to increase the number of doctors over the weekend would be to reduce the number providing care during the week. If the government really want to deliver more seven-day services then they need to show patients, the public and NHS staff their plan for how this will be delivered at a time of enormous financial strain on the NHS and when existing services and staff are under extreme pressure.”
The current budget for NHS England is £95.6 billion and it seems certain that this would need to increase significantly if the government’s scheme to be implemented by 2020 as intended.
As the UK government continues its attempts to address dementia, its plans have received a welcome boost.
The government has pledged to find a cure for the condition by 2025, owing to the massive demographic problems that dementia threatens in the future.
The number of people with dementia in the UK is forecast to increase to over 1 million by 2025, and over 2 million by 2051.
However, these figures are based on a worse case scenario, and the fundamental assumption that there are no public health interventions in the intervening years.
But despite the sheer scale of action required to address demential in Britain, some good news on the issue is evident.
There has been a large rise in the number of people volunteering to take part in research studies related to the condition.
Official figures show that over the last twelve months, 22,000 people have taken part in research studies related to dementia; a 60 per cent increase over the previous year.
The increased participation in research has been documented by he National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Currently, around 100 ground breaking dementia research projects are being conducted throughout the British Isles, and scientists state that the vastly increased volunteerism related to these will greatly assist the process of seeking a cure for dementia.
The rise in participation was in part triggered by the Challenge on Dementia and Dementia 2020 Challenge; both initiatives of the existing Conservative government.
These two programmes are intended to accelerate learning on the topic of dementia, with the overarching aim of discovering a cure by the end of the current decade.
Current research projects on dementia include testing whether antibiotics slow cognitive decline, investigating the role of the immune system in dementia, identifying genetic risk factors and improving end of life care for people with dementia.
Speaking on these encouraging developments, Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman welcomed the news.
“Dementia is a devastating condition that can have a significant impact on the lives of those affected and their families. Volunteers are essential to our battle against the disease and I’m delighted that so many people – with and without dementia – are coming forward to participate in ground-breaking new trials,” Freeman enthused.
Aside from the debilitating effects of the illness, there are also clear economic incentives to tackle demential as well.
The total cost of dementia in the UK annually is £26.3 billion, and research indicates that much of this expenditure is funded by dementia sufferers and their immediate family.
Two-thirds of the cost of dementia (£17.4 billion) is paid by people with dementia and their families, either in unpaid care or in paying for private social care.