Jeremy Hunt's 7 most controversial moments as health secretary

Mimi Launder
Tuesday 10 July 2018 08:45
Picture:(Getty Images / Christopher Furlong / Staff)

Jeremy Hunt, the longest-serving custodian of the NHS, is arguably also one of the most controversial.

During his six-year tenure as health secretary, he oversaw unprecedented funding cuts and crisis in the NHS - and all that with a surname that presents the perfect opportunity for cockney rhyming slang for a certain four-letter word.

Now that Hunt is finally leaving the post to become foreign secretary, the list of controversies under his reign as health secretary has finally stopped growing, and we've compiled his most infamous moments to mark the occasion.

1. The junior doctor contract row.

No controversy marked Hunt's time as health secretary more than the fallout from his commitment to create a seven-day NHS.

Way back in 2013, in the wake of the Mid Staffs hospital scandal, where hundreds of patients died as a result of poor care between January 2005 and March 2009, Hunt unveiled plans to revolutionise patient safety.

Patient safety remained a top priority for Hunt until the bitter end. What frustrated staff was the way he tackled the problem, criticising the staff's professionalism and work ethic.

This came to heads when he set about abolishing what he saw as a "Monday to Friday culture" and switching it to a seven-day week in 2015 over concern about the lack of consultant cover and urgent care offered at the weekend.

Feeling attacked and made out to be the enemy, medical staff took to social media to reveal the tough hours they worked, under a tight NHS budget and negligible pay rises.

This was just the beginning of a months-long clash over contracts, culminating in junior doctors staging a series of walkouts - among them, the first all-out strikes in NHS history.

2. His clash with Lewisham Hospital.

Jeremy Hunt's battle to drastically cut services and close departments - including vital maternity, A&E and intensive care units - at Lewisham Hospital reached the High Court, where he lost.

The government wanted locals to travel to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, a five mile journey that took activists Carol Brown and Barry Mills nearly two hours by bus.

Judges found he had acted outside his powers after the Save Lewisham Campaign Group pushed the case to victory.

3. Lengthening waiting times.

In 2013, not even a year after becoming health secretary, Hunt announced a fundamental review of emergency care following waiting times that were the worst in almost a decade.

It got worse from there: in 2014, he was criticised by a health watchdog for claiming in the Commons that median waiting times to be seen in A&E departments had halved since 2010; 2015 revived the 2013 statistic - this time, seeing the worse A&E waiting times in a decade; and in 2017, Hunt admitted that the NHS must do better when it comes to waiting times after failing to miss targets for cancer care, A&E and routine operations over 18 months.

This year, Hunt was criticised for ditching waiting times targets after experts warned emergency departments were in a 'state of emergency'.

4. The 'worst ever' NHS winter crisis, caused by 'systemic underfunding'.

In 2017, the British Red Cross said there was a 'humanitarian crisis' in winter care caused by 'systemic underfunding' following the record-low A&E waiting time performance.

Even Jeremy Hunt admitted the winter crisis was the 'worst ever', but said staff knew what to expect when they 'signed up' to work in the health service.

5. Saying he would halve the limit on abortions.

New to the job in 2012, Hunt was roundly criticised for comments he made backing halving the legal abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks after conception.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists denounced the comments as "insulting to women".

6. 'Asking a FGM campaigner if she could still have orgasms.'

In March 2017, The Independent reported that Hunt had asked a female genital mutilation (FGM) campaigner Nimco Ali if "girls like you have an orgasm".

Ali claimed Hunt found her via Google and that he had no idea about FGM at the time.

The Department of Health refused to comment on Ali's allegation.

7. Stephen Hawking accusing him of "back door privatisation of the NHS".

Stephen Hawking and leading doctors won permission to take Hunt to court over alleged "back door privatisation of the NHS" early in 2018.

They claimed that Hunt's plans to change accountable care organisations (ACOs) - touted to bring together local organisations and NHS groups - would allow for loopholes for privatisation

This followed a war of words between the pair, with the Hawking previously accusing the Hunt of misrepresenting research.

Hunt was condemned on social media for trying to lead tributes towards Hawking after his death.

More: 5 things you need to know about new health secretary Matt Hancock