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'Wielding his magic water, the new health secretary steps in'


You may have noticed I don’t bang on as often as I used to.

While this might be a blessed relief to you, I find the long-established habit of “noticing nonsense to write about” is yet to re-pace itself. Consequently, the drivel I have shared with you for years now collects in my head competing with other bits of drivel to get out and breathe.

“What are you going to write about?” asks my wife, not remotely caring about the answer because she is an occupational therapist. “Dunno,” I mumble, “Currently, I’m toying with Paul McCartney, the right to die, Lady Gaga’s new hat, the French, some new campaign by the Royal College of Nursing that I have already forgotten about but it might not have started yet, and accident and emergency waiting times.”

“Good idea,” she lies.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury, giving up smoking, vampires, Heathrow, courgettes, suicide, the new series of Dr Who, lying…”


“Badly written books about sex, fish oil, Mars - the planet not the chocolate bar - GCSE results, mountains, Mars the chocolate bar…”

“Yes,” she says, “Well, off you go then…”

But there is an elephant in the room, which is as annoying as it sounds and it goes by the name of Jeremy Hunt. I think we could patent a new game called Guess the Scenario where contestants get to imagine the bizarre circumstances in which a clearly distracted David Cameron shouted “Who doesn’t mind doing health for a bit?” and set about finding a health secretary. I’ll start with: he threw the portfolio into the air and it landed on Theresa May who, in an unusual display of wit, gave it to a surprised Gary Barlow, who giggled and handed it to Beyoncé who, in turn, lobbed it over a confused Steven Gerrard into the surprised lap of Jeremy Hunt who had forgotten the question and simply grinned like an old cat with a penchant for recreational drugs and said: “Sir, Beyoncé threw health at me.”

It is possible that Mr Hunt is the best man for the job but that begs the question: what job? Given that he is on record as believing in the nonsense that is magic water (he calls it homeopathy) and is against abortion and hybrid stem cell research, nobody is going to accuse him of being progressive. More worryingly is that in 2009 he joined with Michael Gove in calling for the NHS to be dismantled, claiming it was no longer relevant. One can only imagine he had been told that all the ill people had got better.

Perhaps his views are better informed now or have been tempered by power. Perhaps he is more circumspect or mindful that the modern politician serves something other than his seemingly random beliefs.

But two other possibilities seem more likely and a lot more frightening. The first is that this government want someone with those beliefs overseeing the health service - that putting a right-winger who considers the NHS outdated and irrelevant and would probably quite like to sell it to Sir Richard Branson is the perfect manifestation of their political intent. The second is that Cameron is so utterly disdainful of health and its place in his “vision” that it really doesn’t matter who is in charge, so he gives it to whoever is left in the room when he handed out the jobs.

What is the lesser of those two evils? Disdain or indifference? And what does it say about the NHS that the best political future we can hope for is that nobody cares enough to be any more destructive than they already have been?

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Gabriel’s Angel


Readers' comments (11)

  • michael stone

    'You may have noticed I don’t bang on as often as I used to.'

    I had noticed, and wondered why that was.

    'What is the lesser of those two evils? Disdain or indifference?'

    I think indifference is probably less damaging, but the choice seems a bit like 'I'm about to hit you around the head - do you prefer me to use a cricket bat, or a baseball bat ?' and I can't say I actually like either one.

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  • tinkerbell

    nah can't be bothered much anymore myself. Will be taking a rest as from tonight, recharge, regroup, take some 'me' time. Reserve my energy for when the 'empire strikes back', if it ever happens.

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  • Yes DH agent; that is pretty much my feeling too.

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  • I wasn't impressed with the appointment of Mr Hunt as his views on the NHS as regards privatisation are well known at the same time I have been unhappy with Mr Lansley who has done his own damage. We are in a no win situation.
    We need someone who believes in the NHS and wants to improve the NHS, stop shutting our beds, and making our staff redundant.
    Yes Mark you have been writing less lately keep your comments going we need some cheering up in all this gloom.

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  • I don't understand this choice of Hunt. surely the NHS, the largest employer in Europe if I am not mistaken, which requires high levels of specialism and high quality output also needs a team of experts of the highest calibre to run it.

    Is the NHS and social welfare a thorn in Cameron's side he finds too large for him to deal with, which he is just trying to sweep under the carpet. If so what are his priorities if the security and healthcare of the nation are not at the top of his agenda?

    Surely a healthy and satisfied nation is a far more productive one. Doesn't production lead to capital growth and isn't this what is needed to feed the economy of any country?

    Did Cameron bite of more than he can chew in accepting the Premiership? Does he fully grasp what this job is all about?

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  • tinkerbell

    just when i thought i could 'rant' no longer as run out of energy, i switched energy providers and now have dual fuel. A guy asked if i want to combine my gas with my electricity, sounds a bit dangerous to me.

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  • tinkerbell

    nick clegg sings 'i'm sorry'.

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  • Dear Mark - I had really missed you! Your column is the one I most look forward to - insightful and lightens the gloom a little. As for Hunt - I despair for the NHS and only hope it can survive in some measure until we get a better government that will cherish and look after it and are not out to destroy it.

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  • Bridget Harris | 22-Sep-2012 8:56 am

    won't it be that any changes they make will be fairly radical and extremely difficult and costly for successive governments to reverse.

    one problem seems that so much energy and costs are invested over the years in reforms that focus on patient care is being lost as well as opportunities to improve quality and offer the latest technology, knowledge, equipment, diagnostic procedures, treatment and care through adequately trained staff, and many more patients will be made to suffer or unnecessarily losing their lives in the meantime, as a result of resources not being concentrated where they are most needed.

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  • Ah yes another hilarious appointment to laugh about-better than crying I suppose

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