What NHS Issues Must Jeremy Hunt Address in the New Government?

With Theresa May newly appointed as Prime Minister, and a new cabinet having been put in place, the future of the NHS will undoubtedly be significantly affected.

The confirmation of Jeremy Hunt from May, reappointing him as health secretary following four chequered years in post, will not find favour with many healthcare professionals.

There were numerous suggestions ahead of the retention of Hunt that May could decide to choose another individual for this key government post.

However, the reappointment of Hunt underlines the faith of the new prime minister in a minister who is considered a political talent, even if the policies of the department have often seemed awry with regard to the needs of the public health service.

As Hunt begins his tenure in what is effectively a new position in the shifting political climate, he faces difficulties on three important fronts.

Firstly, industrial relations with healthcare professionals and the governments have been pretty terrible over the last few years, as exemplified by the junior doctors strike.

Funding will also remain a critical aspect of the NHS policy for the coming years, and Hunt must surely assess whether the £22 billion of efficiency savings demanded from NHS trusts are truly realistic.

Finally, Hunt must deal with the issue of reform, with many NHS departments severely clogged up, and general practice facing fundamental logistical difficulties.

The length of time Hunt spent in Downing Street on the morning of his appointment may indicate the depth of the new prime minister’s concern about what she faces in the NHS.

Above all else, Hunt must come to an agreement with junior doctors as soon as possible.

While the government has threatened to play hardball on the issue of junior doctors’ contracts, it seems difficult in reality to imagine that this is a feasible stance on the subject.

With many healthcare professionals in this field threatening to either leave the profession completely or go overseas, it seems that Hunt is not holding the strongest deck in this particular negotiation.

Considering the pressure already bearing down on the NHS and general practice, it seems that the health minister must surely look to build bridges with health professionals rather than taking a dictatorial position.

Hunt stands accused by the doctors of misrepresenting evidence about hospital patient outcomes at weekends, and how that relates to the seven-day working he wants to introduce.

While the junior doctors contracts issue has garnered a great deal of media attention, it can also be seen as merely symptomatic of a wider healthcare malaise.

The reality is that the NHS faces massive staff shortages in numerous areas, and Hunt must balance budgetary concerns while also addressing the obvious problem of recruitment, and do this in a new post-Brexit political environment.

Perhaps there will be little faith among many sceptical healthcare professionals that the minister can achieve this, but his ultimate success will be critical to the future of the NHS.


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