‘We’re going on a bear hunt…’

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Photo credit: Garry Knight

Photo credit: Garry Knight

Fergus Taylor
Fourth year medical student

Beloved children’s author Michael Rosen joined the long list of people up in arms against Jeremy Hunt last week, with a series of satirical messages posing as ‘his new speech-writer.’

There were 36 at last count. (He took a short respite to post a video of a poem reading he’d recorded for children, before returning to poke holes in the health secretary yet again).

They are all excellent, and highly entertaining – short, witty snippets that lampoon the obvious confidence in what Hunt is doing, and against the total lack of awareness around his actions. Written as only a great children’s author could, the errors in this silly grown-up’s plans are so simple a child would laugh to tell you.

“Jeremy Hunt says, I know all about medicine, I was born in a hospital.”

Ha, silly Jeremy. That’s not how it works..

“Jeremy Hunt says, too much time is taken up in the NHS by people who are ill.”

Oh, silly Jeremy. You don’t quite know what the NHS is for, do you?

Humour often pokes holes in a way direct criticism never can; it draws focus on the issues and helps build a case through laughter. Just look at the politicians that regularly line up to appear on satirical news shows, if you’d doubt the importance of comedy.

Unfortunately, the joke belies a darker reality. Hunt was the target of his new speeches following his comments on the William Mead inquiry the other day. He admitted that the NHS Out-of-hours hotline needed more doctors and nurses to prevent another tragedy, but went on to suggest that parents could look online to gauge the severity of their child’s rash.

This might seem like a fairly innocuous statement, but it is a bizarre and patently stupid one when from the health secretary. He should know that giving medical advice is dangerous – rashes can be signs of very serious conditions. Certainly Michael Rosen knew; his son died of meningitis years ago, and it’s why he drew attention to the reckless ignorance of Hunt’s advice.

In dermatology, as a general rule, rashes are annoying for the patient; itchy, unsightly, but generally mundane for the doctor. That is, apart from the occasions when they are heart-racing-in-your-mouth terrifying.

Some rashes are itchy and red and go away with some lotion. But some rashes are itchy, red, and the only warning that an infection is hours away from killing them. It’s best to be certain which is which.

I have a friend with something called HSP. It’s a medical condition that comes on occasionally with a rash which looks and acts like the rash associated with meningitis. It’s far less dangerous, but so similar that my friend has seen senior consultants notice it and immediately go pale in the face.

The point is this – rashes are difficult to interpret. Many look and act similarly, and rely on hospital tests to distinguish one from the other. It’s why many trusts can’t discharge a patient with a rash without it first being seen by a consultant, because a mistake in recognising it could have serious consequences.

Hunt has advisors who could tell him this. It tells you a lot about the character of a man when they’d happily give advice which, despite knowing better, could kill people.

Hunt was criticised by doctors for his reckless comments on a matter he didn’t understand. He was deservedly criticised by parents like Michael Rosen, who knows first-hand how devastating these conditions can be.

The type of meningitis that killed his son is commonly recognised by a rash. The same rash which Hunt advises parents rule out using Google.

There’s a stronger message to be understood from this however; the type of health secretary that doesn’t understand the impact of his actions is a man you should be concerned about. He’s a cartoon villain, but this is the man put in charge of your healthcare system.

He uses the media to his advantage; going so far as to act in contempt of court to score cheap political points. He’s been the subject of multiple protests, and in an effort of deflection has praised those campaigns, twice. He hides away from the Commons when doctors strike and when MP’s questions are called for him. This is not someone who acts with public accountability in mind.

At the moment, Jeremy Hunt is the senior minister in charge of employment contracts that may lose a generation of doctors, and cripple the NHS.  He wants to implement contracts that remove patient safeguards, and force doctors to work longer, unsafe hours for less.

He’s asked for airline-levels of safety, but the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority recognises the danger of tired staff, and have far stricter working limits then the NHS’ safeguards, the ones he’s actively trying to remove.

These are the contracts he’s threatening to impose on doctors.

98 per cent of eligible doctors voted to support legal, industrial action, the next day of which only came after a breakdown in the talks Hunt was responsible for. Before then, there were agreements between the Department of Health and the BMA, agreements which sources indicate he vetoed. These were the very same talks he only agreed to enter on the 11th hour of strike action.

Hunt says he wants to have a 7-day NHS

But the doctors know there’s no new investment to pay for it. They want to know how the same number of doctors can possibly cover more shifts for the same budget. It just means less doctors during the week, or more hours for less pay.

Hunt says that he’s given an 11 per cent pay rise to doctors.

But the doctors know he isn’t including the pay cuts he’s implemented. They know it means less wages every month. They know the NHS in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales wanted nothing to do with the contracts. And furthermore, Scotland knows doctors won’t want to work in England because of it.

Hunt says that doctors are misled by their trade union. 

Thousands of doctors say that he’s lying to the public. He’s the man who’s in charge of protecting the NHS, but won’t listen to the people that work there.

If these were my conditions, I’d strike. Wouldn’t you?

If you’d like to get in contact with Jeremy Hunt, please contact him at the Department of Health, or get in touch with your local MP.

Fergus Taylor is the College Convenor for the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences (MVLS) on the GUSRC. He is a fourth year medical student.