Threat of cabinet shunt for Hunt over doctors’ strike

The Sunday Times
Tim Shipman, Political Editor Published: 17 January 2016

Junior doctors on strike: the health secretary is under pressureJunior doctors on strike: the health secretary is under pressure (James Gourley)

JEREMY HUNT has been tipped for the sack by cabinet colleagues in David Cameron’s next reshuffle after failing to head off the junior doctors’ strike.

Senior Tories say George Osborne, the chancellor, wants Boris Johnson to take over as health secretary in what allies of the London mayor view as “literally a hospital pass” designed to dent his leadership hopes.

One cabinet minister said Hunt is vulnerable he “was sent to health to keep the NHS out of the headlines — and instead we’ve got the first doctors’ strike in a generation”.

A close ally of the prime minister has sounded out Tory MPs about Johnson taking over from Hunt later this year.

The mayor has been promised a “big job” by Cameron and has also been tipped as foreign secretary. Hunt would remain in the cabinet in another post.

Senior government sources have confirmed that the plan has been floated by people who are close to Osborne. However, one source said: “This is wishful thinking by a leadership rival.”

The plan emerged as up to 50,000 patients are set to have their treatment disrupted by the second planned strike later this month. Hospitals said there will be even more disruption than in last week’s 24-hour strike. More than 4,400 operations last week were cancelled and 17,500 outpatient appointments had to be abandoned.

The two-day walkout, set for January 26, will result in about 10,000 operations being cancelled and up to 40,000 outpatient appointments being postponed.

Health Education England, which helps to train NHS medical staff, revealed that it would have to cancel 3,000 interviews with junior doctors about their next posts if the second strike goes ahead.

Hunt came under fresh pressure last night amid claims that he has misused statistics about the quality of stroke care at weekends.

In a letter to The Sunday Times, dozens of leading stroke doctors criticise his claim on the day of the strike that “you are 20% more likely to die from a stroke at the weekend”, saying the data is “out of date” because of “recent rapid improvements in stroke services”. They add: “Misrepresentation of statistics on stroke care to justify the junior doctor contract proposals is completely inappropriate.”

The signatories include 12 medics from four London hospitals and doctors from Manchester, Salford, Exeter and Pennine Acute hospitals. They say Hunt’s statements “led patients to defer seeking medical help and come to harm”, concluding: “Timely presentation to hospital is particularly critical in stroke, as it improves outcomes and reduces mortality. [We] ask that you reassure the public about the level of weekend stroke services.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Anyone with urgent health concerns should seek advice as soon as possible. However, there is clear clinical evidence that standards of care are not uniform across the week. This government makes no apology for tackling the problem.”

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