Correcting Jeremy Hunt (The Guardian, 26 08 2017, ‘Why won’t Jeremy Hunt come clean?’) Stephen Hawking, an eminent director of research, as well as someone with considerable personal experience of the NHS as a patient over many years, points out that “record funding is not the same thing as adequate funding”, and cites the damning verdict of the Red Cross, that “the NHS is facing a humanitarian crisis”.
British foreign correspondent Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy provided harrowing evidence of this humanitarian crisis, the variable inadequacy of mental health services across the country, and the catastrophic consequences for the lives of those affected (Wasting Away: the Truth About Anorexia, C4, 24 08 2017). It was clear from the testimony of would-be patients (those waiting for an appointment or a bed), patients (many being treated huge distances from home), family members (many travelling from one end of the UK to the other to visit and support their offspring because there was no local provision) and specialist mental health practitioners, that not only are services patchy, inadequate or inappropriate (barely even a postcode lottery), but that this vacuum has been created by widespread and deep government cuts to the funding of public services since the Tory-led coalition in 2010. Over the last 7 years, those with disabilities and/or mental health issues appear to be favourite Tory targets for brutal funding and services cuts, that put our society to shame.
Mark and Maddy came face to face with Jeremy Hunt at the end of their measured but grim report. They presented him with their findings and attempted to question him. He dealt with them as he deals with every other person who questions his behaviour and government policies: first disarming them with ostensible agreement that there is a problem, followed by disingenuous platitudes, about how long it will take to fix. These things cannot be rushed, and apparently everything will have improved by 2020/2022. By which time, he forgot to acknowledge, many more young people and children will be very ill indeed, or dead, as a result of the lack of appropriate and effective services now or when they needed them.
With Hunt, there is always the sense that anything that is going wrong in the NHS is the fault of the NHS, its staff or even patients (more older patients, or others not looking after themselves properly), rather than funding and staffing numbers being inadequate as a result of government policies. The Tory break up and privatisation of the NHS purports to be a response to a health care system that is not working. This is, after all, the politician who, before being put in charge of health, described the NHS as a “failed experiment”. Was this, I wonder, a Tory requirement for his new job?
At no point did Hunt appear to feel uncomfortable or inadequate to the task of responding to the questions of Mark and Maddy. Father and daughter had done their important bit, researching the issues and filming people’s personal and professional testimony. But staring at him in disbelief at the end of the interview, demonstrated their defeat at his practised political hands. I only hope they didn’t thank him as they left. I imagine they were gutted.
Austin’s learning curve as a previously uncomprehending father had informed their TV narrative, but faced with Hunt, it fell short of what was needed: the honed, guerrilla determination of a long term public health or mental health activist who, previously thwarted, at last had the enemy cornered. The sense of urgency Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy had brought to their investigative report was dissipated by Hunt’s dismissive reassurances. Little comfort that their treatment echoed that meted out to the scientist Stephen Hawking (see The Guardian, 26 08 2017).
Faced with Hunt’s refusal on camera to acknowledge the brutal consequences of his government’s policies, as well as his own considerable role, this was not a moment for polite decorum. Where was the anger, where was the rage at Hunt’s impervious arrogance, his refusal, as accused by Hawking, “to come clean”? Again.
val walsh / 28 08 2017