Jeremy Hunt is currently asking for increase in sociable work hours in a move disruptive to the family lives of doctors across the country. This is despite MPs voting three years ago to give themselves more family-friendly hours.
Given that Jeremy Hunt has claimed the NHS isn’t 24/7 (it is) and that consultants don’t work weekends (they nearly all do), you think he’d be around to answer questions at 330 on a Monday afternoon. Especially if the question was an urgent one about the NHS’ biggest financial crisis for years.
For the non-politicos, urgent questions are the parliamentary equivalent of a heart attack. They are serious, don’t happen that often and are granted only if there’s no other way of asking for the information you want.
Instead, Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander had to ask her question to Ben Gummer, a junior minister of 5 months experience. The debate was attended by every other significant health figure Westminster: Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Health Select Committee; Dr Phillippa Whitford, SNP Health Spokesperson and Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem Health Spokesperson.
Interestingly, of the 9 urgent questions relating to heath this year, Hunt only answered two of them. Trust me, I looked at all of them and it was as fascinating as it sounds.
The NHS is ready to respond to emergencies 24/7, and its doctors are being asked to treat Saturdays as a normal weekday. Jeremy Hunt isn’t ready to respond to an emergency question on a weekday afternoon, and in the last three years has been given a 17% pay rise and more sociable hours.
And people wonder why doctors aren’t fond of the man?
PS: For anyone wondering how the actual debate went, here’s a summary:
- Heidi Alexander, or any other MP that asked a question critical of the government, was given a rambling answer where any answer at all was buried in unnecessary verbiage. A bit like the sentence I just wrote.
- Tory MPs (though not all) lined up to brown nose Gummer and asked flattering questions. To the surprise of no one, these were answered much more fully and quickly.
- David Tredinnick, the famously nutty MP who believes surgeons are like werewolves and don’t like to work on a full moon, asked a question far enough of topic to be told off by the Speaker.
- No real progress made on the issue of NHS finances at all.