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The GMC Conference III – Jeremy Hunt

December 12, 2013

In Part I, I talked about a morning debate about whistleblowing.

In Part II, I talked about social media and doctors.

The afternoon began with a plenary session covering transparency, leadership and the patient voice. Interesting perspectives were offered by five different panel members from different parts of medicine and the UK.

Then it was time for the Secretary of State for Health, the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP, to take the stage and deliver the keynote speech of the conference. When I first saw his name in the programme, I thought, “Jeremy Hunt is talking to doctors about professionalism. How rich!” But as the conference drew closer, I grew intrigued. This is the man who delivered Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act, possibly the death knell of the NHS as we know it. Everything I know about the man has come second-hand from either Twitter or the traditional media.

But who is Jeremy Hunt?

I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and listen to what he had to say.

He spoke well, clear and confident. He is fond of anecdotes and witty quips from statesmen. He said that, lacking a background in medicine, he tries to help out regularly “on the frontline” – cleaning commodes, taking blood pressure… (Jeremy Hunt has nearly as many DOPS signed off as me!). He is also keen to learn more from what people can teach him. He stated his belief that the NHS is offers some of the best healthcare in the world, that it has delivered more on the same budget (effectively a cut) and that no one in the private sector works as hard as those in the NHS.

He spoke of how no one in the NHS had approached him to try and minimise or downplay the Mid Staffs affair and the Francis report. He said he was excited for the profession that was trying to move forward with the advice of Francis, Berwick and Keogh. He said that, in the hospitals placed in “special measures” earlier this year, morale has begun to improve.

Jeremy Hunt said that the NHS is a moral being, or it is nothing.

He comes across as very earnest and very genuine. It would be easy to dismiss this afternoon as a slick speech by a silver-tongued politician but I got the impression that Jeremy Hunt really wants to do something positive for healthcare in the UK. According to his and others’ perhaps misguided Tory ideas, but still. It was difficult, intellectually grating at points, to marry up what he said today with extant Tory policy. I still don’t trust him with the NHS, and I still wonder why Sarah Wollaston isn’t a health minister, but there might just be a glimmer of hope…

Hope for something.

It was experience to listen to Jeremy Hunt in person, to take a small step into a most curious mind, but it was part of the much larger experience of the whole GMC conference today. There are challenges the medical profession has to face, and it will face them – in 2014 and beyond. Already steps are being taken the right direction, I think.

What I’m taking away from this conference is this: Professionalism cannot be allowed to be anodyne and sterile. What it needs is passion, enthusiasm and boldness – And a willingness to embrace innovation and new technology.

Let’s go get our professional on!

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