Hunt for the Truth?

Angus-Wrixon-client services-director-Salix-and-Co82 days to go to the election, just in case you were counting. To lighten this somewhat depressing fact ask yourself the question, which politician’s face do I not want to slap? I suggest your list is not a long one. In the spirit of openness and transparency, I confess that Jeremy Hunt is on mine. And possibly Chuka Umunna. They will no doubt rest easier in their beds for knowing this.In stark contrast to the bear pit that was the Guardian health “debate” a couple of weeks ago, to which busloads of campaigners turned up to pillory poor old Norman Lamb (he isn’t on my list by the way), Wednesday’s nhsManagers Healthchat was a very civilised affair. All the more extraordinary given Roy Lilley’s interviewee was none other than Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, the Tory in charge of selling off, saving or ruining our NHS depending on your point of view. Over two hundred attendees, none of whom could have been entirely free from some frustration or other about the NHS, sat and listened, if not in adulation, then with polite consideration, as Hunt expounded his views. That, in this febrile atmosphere, takes some doing. Even Twitter traffic seemed strangely muted.So what did he say that had this slightly mesmerising effect? Nothing terribly new. It was all in the delivery.He admitted – as much as any politician can – that the Health and Social Care Act hadn’t been perfect but insisted that it was now saving the system £1.5 billion a year. And, that it hadn’t created any more market opportunities than existed before. He champions co-commissioning and wants an overhaul of the current tariff system.He was cogent on describing the steps to make whole-person care and preventative commissioning a reality: break down barriers to co-commissioning on the proviso CCGs have sufficient data to know what care actually costs. So far, what’s not to like?

Anyone trying to get some traction on telecare and telehealth take note: he cited how it should be easy to commission a device costing 250 quid for diabetic patients to help them self-care and keep them out of hospital. All power to you on that one, SoS!

And, everyone will be watching to see if he keeps his promise of no more big structural changes after the election.

He’s quite refreshing on the subject of obsessive focus on targets. His solution is to “rediscover clinical accountability” in which everyone gets a clinician in charge of the whole person. He’s asked the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges for definition of meaningful clinical accountability in an out-of-hospital setting – which sounds like a potential future target to me.

Regular readers will know Roy’s undisguised loathing and contempt for the CQC and inspection. Much mirth, then, when SoS not only said he thought the CQC’s return on investment for taxpayers was “phenomenal” but that the answer to spreading good practice throughout the NHS was via the CQC. His view is that hospitals respond positively to inspection by peers and that the culture of targets should be replaced by one in which there is more peer review based on meaningful data that allows performance comparison. Good luck with that.

Pushed on why Care.Data wasn’t progressing as fast as it should, SoS merely reiterated the politician’s paranoia of losing people’s personal data. TTIP? Nothing to worry about.

By this stage in the proceedings, despite the occasional prod from Lilley, it looked as though everyone in the audience was nodding in polite agreement with Hunt’s apparently credible, measured and informed command of his brief. All very unusual for any debate about health so a clear testament to Hunt’s own powers of communication.

Perhaps Stephen Dorrell, who followed SoS, gave a clue as to why we were all so enthralled. Politicians, he maintained, can answer the “easy” questions about money and what they’d like to see happen. But the real test will come when they are asked to make the case for the sort of changes that will have to happen – like closing hospitals.

Well, if anyone can make a decent go of it, it’s probably Jeremy Hunt. The question is, who’ll be in charge by then? Find out in around 82 days.

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