Jeremy No-Mates gets a taste of bitter Brexit medicine – The Guardian

Jeremy No-Mates gets a taste of bitter Brexit medicine – The Guardian

At times like these you can almost feel sorry for the health secretary. It can’t be much fun being Jeremy No-Mates. Disliked by everyone working in the NHS and kept at arm’s length by cabinet colleagues who fear his failure might be contagious, Hunt is a man on borrowed time. If the Tories weren’t in such a mess, with the Maybot all but invisible and ministers locked in a death spiral of briefing and counter-briefing, Hunt would have almost certainly been out on his ear by now.

Judging by how miserable he looked at his first departmental questions of the new parliament, there is nothing Hunt would like more than some time out of office. It’s just his bad luck that there’s no one in authority to fire him. Hunt knows he just can’t win. Even if he were able to rustle up up a 2% pay rise for doctors and nurses, the damage was already done. It would be too little, too late; money doled out grudgingly that would only just keep pace with inflation. No one was going to thank him for a pay rise that merely stopped them getting steadily less broke.

Or for anything else, for that matter. Money was only the start of his problems, as the Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael was only too keen to point out. Would Hunt care to share any discussions he had had with the home secretary on ensuring the NHS had enough staff once the UK left the EU?

Hunt looked down at his briefing notes. There, in bold, was the statement ‘Hard Brexit means people fleeing UK’. A look of panic momentarily crossed his face. Was this the answer he was meant to be reading out, or was this the next question he had been advised to expect? Either way, it had the ring of truth.

Best play it safe, he thought, by remaining non-committal. “The 150,000 EU nationals working in our health and care services do a brilliant job,” he said, “and we want them to continue doing it.”

In which case, why was he doing his best to drive most of them out of the country, asked Labour’s Heidi Alexander. “The truth is that EU staff no longer want to come here,” she said. “Doctors and nurses are leaving in their droves. This staffing crisis has not materialised out of thin air but is directly attributable to his actions and the actions of his government over the past seven years.”

This was too much for Hunt. It wasn’t his fault. Nothing was his fault. He’d only ever tried to do his best. If she wanted someone to blame she could start somewhere else. “The honourable lady may have noticed a little thing called Brexit that happened last year, which is the cause of understandable concern,” he said snippily.

There were a few sniggers on the Labour benches at this. It appeared that the health secretary was unaware it had been his government that called the EU referendum and had been the loudest champions of a hard Brexit up until last month’s election. As an act of kindness they chose to say nothing.

Just as Hunt thought he was off the hook, Conservative Andrew Murrison unintentionally made things worse by saying we could always replace NHS staff from the EU with doctors and nurses from the Indian sub-continent. Brilliant. Pointlessly get rid of tens of thousands of well-trained staff only to go through the disruption of recruiting from elsewhere. It’s that kind of thinking that made Britain great.

Things never really improved for Hunt after that. He had no answer to why the NHS was short of 40,000 nurses. It was just one of those things. Nor was his explanation that the reason we had fewer GPs was because he had been so busy recruiting young doctors that loads of older ones had got the hump and taken early retirement entirely convincing.

By the time Labour’s shadow health minister, Jonathan Ashworth, piled in by asking how he could say he supported a lift in the pay cap and then vote against the Labour amendment – if there was £1bn for the DUP, how come there was no cash for the NHS? – Hunt was ready to throw in the towel. He didn’t need to keep fighting losing battles any more. If everyone else could leave the NHS because they were fed up, why couldn’t he?

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