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Jeremy Hunt ‘ignored’ NHS staff shortages while health secretary

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Jeremy Hunt has been accused of ignoring serious NHS staff shortages for years and driving medics out of the profession while health secretary after he intervened this weekend to warn of a workforce crisis.

Promoting his new book, 'Zero: Eliminating Unnecessary Deaths in a Post-Pandemic NHS', Hunt said tackling the “chronic failure of workforce planning” was the most important task in relieving pressure on frontline services. Now the chair of the health and social care committee, he said the situation was “very, very serious”, with doctors and nurses “run ragged by the intensity of work”.

But his comments drew sharp criticism from healthcare staff, who said Hunt – the longest-serving health secretary in the 74-year history of the NHS – failed to take sufficient action to boost recruitment while in the top job between 2012 and 2018. Instead, critics said, his tenure saw health workers quit the NHS in droves for jobs abroad or new careers outside medicine. There are now 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, and the waiting list for treatment has soared to 6.4 million.

“There’s an avalanche of pressure bearing down on the NHS. But for years Jeremy Hunt and other ministers ignored the staffing crisis,” said Sara Gorton, the head of health at Unison, the UK’s largest health union. “The pandemic has amplified the consequences of that failure. Experienced employees are leaving at faster rates than new ones can be recruited.”

“Hunt has recently been an articulate analyst of current issues, particularly workforce shortages, but these haven’t come out of the blue,” said Dr Colin Hutchinson, the chair of Doctors for the NHS. “At the time he could have made the greatest impact, his response was muted. We have to ask: was the service people were receiving from the NHS better, or worse, at the end of his time in office? At the time when it most mattered, he was found wanting.”

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Source: The Guardian, 15 May 2022

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