Win the Battle, Start a War

Win the Battle, Start a War

If there is one thing you don’t do as Secretary of State for Health is pick a fight with the some of the NHS’s most well financed and powerful bodies. Andrew Lansley made that mistake to the detriment of his Ministerial career, and now Jeremy Hunt could be forgiven for wondering if his story will go the same way…

The cause of his headache is David Cameron’s flagship health policy – a truly seven day NHS, and it’s Hunt’s job to make it happen. The PM is keen to prove that the Tories really can be the party of the NHS and Hunt has been left with no choice but seek to deliver a policy that, given current budget constraints facing the NHS, is extremely difficult to implement. An attempt to make these changes happen has descended into row over pay and work conditions for junior doctors and for the first time in forty years they have taken to the streets to protest the government’s proposals.

So far, it’s not been going that well for the Government.This week, Hunt’s own Chief Negotiator, Sir David Dalton, criticised his handling of the situation suggesting that the BMA could easily ‘land a punch’ on the Health Secretary. Plus, while striking professionals usually attract a storm cloud of criticism from the public – tube drivers anyone? –  we have not seen quite the same level of vitriol directed at junior doctors, with many people even pledging their support. But with further walkouts planned from all hospital departments later this month and the majority of people supporting the concept of a health service that works seven days a week, the public may well lose their patience. The government will be hoping that, as more hospital appointments are cancelled and lives are potentially put at risk, the mood begins to carry in their favour.

This is undoubtedly another headache for Cameron, who this week is facing increasing divisions in his cabinet over the looming EU referendum. He could end this particular problem quickly by making good the Government’s not so veiled threat of forcing through the contract changes, as they are legally free to do. The problem is, in doing so he could well end the battle, but start a war…