Jeremy Hunt is under some pressure at the moment. From a proposed sugar tax to a massive black-hole in the NHS finances, to the ever-growing spectre of industrial action from junior doctors, it is fair to say he has quite a lot on his plate.
Given the challenges he faces, it is entirely understandable why he went on BBC Breakfast to give an interview. It is less understandable why he said this:
Some would say giving junior doctors yet another gaffe to rage about would be a political mistake. In this case, ‘some’ can probably be taken to mean ‘all’. Especially if you’re currently asking said doctors to extend their sociable work hours to 7am-7pm Monday-Saturday.
In what will be doubly annoying to the Department of Health press team, Mr Hunt made another gaffe further along in the interview:
The pie chart in the video comes from a survey of over 1,000 doctors. Here it is:
Prior to Mr Hunt’s interview, it seems only 0.33% of doctors had heard the phrase ‘ danger money’. Unfortunately for the Tory health team, that number is now a lot higher, after junior doctors started sharing all the times they should have earned their #dangermoney.
The hashtag analytics site Keyhole states #dangermoney has now been seen by nearly 3,000,000 people on Twitter. Probably not the way Jeremy Hunt wanted to connect with doctors less than a week before a ballot on industrial action.
Whilst #dangermoney may sound like an aspiring rapper, and the Twitter jokes probably haven’t penetrated outside the medical bubble, the gaffe represents a bigger problem for Mr Hunt.
Up until now, the health secretary has seemed like an opponent to be respected. He continued to spin figures, and manipulate the media, in a way that junior doctors feared. His methods and strategy had to be respected, even is his opinions and positions did not.
This has changed. He is now longer viewed as a worthy opponent by many junior doctors. They are starting to treat him as a fool. In an interview which can hardly be described as hard-hitting, he managed to make two gaffes. By scraping the barrel and coming up with ‘danger money’, Hunt is starting to look like a panicked man with no real strategy. Repeating discredited arguments in the face of ever-growing opposition, Hunt has seemed unable to change his approach once he is challenged. If he wants to see how well that can go, he only has to rewind to George Osborne’s forced capitulation on tax credit reform on Monday.
It is time for Mr Hunt to drop preconditions and get back around a negotiating table with the BMA. Battling with the most trusted profession in the country is not a good look. Especially when the other side is seeming more and more confident that it can win.