Jeremy Hunt eyes cabinet exit: 'This is likely to be my last big job in politics'
As junior doctors walk out of A&E departments across England in the first ever strike to hit emergency care, spare a thought for Jeremy Hunt.
Or maybe not. But the health secretary is clearly keen for people to know that episode has taken its toll on him.
As the NHS enters unchartered territory, Hunt this morning suggested that his battle with the doctors had killed off any lingering ambitions he might have once held to be next Tory leader, home secretary or foreign secretary. He told the Today programme:
"This is likely to be my last big job in politics. The one thing that will keep me awake is if I didn’t do the right thing to help make the NHS one of the safest, highest quality healthcare systems in the world.
“Health secretaries are never popular, you’re never going to win a contest for being the most liked person when you do this job. But what history judges is 'did you take the tough and difficult decisions that enabled the NHS to deliver high quality care for patients?'.
“These changes are never easy, but the question is are you going to make the difficult decisions that means we have better care for patients; deliver manifesto commitments, and that’s what I’m absolutely determined to do.”
Of course, a cynic might suggest that the embattled health secretary is merely preparing to jump before he is pushed after the EU referendum.
Hunt has already described the strikes as “extreme” and called on doctors to rethink. The Daily Telegraph has stepped up the rhetoric, lamenting the British Medical Association “militancy” and comparing today’s action to the industrial action of the 1970s and 80s.
During his interrogation by Nick Robinson, Hunt rejected comparisons with the miners’ strike and insisted that that the government has been trying hard for three years to find an agreement. But he added: “It’s a very bleak day.”
The BMA has offered to call off the industrial action if Hunt revokes his threat to impose the controversial new contract at the centre of the row. Chair of its junior doctors committee Dr Johann Malawana said:
"No doctor wants to take any action. They want to be in work, treating patients, but by refusing to get back around the negotiating table the Government has left them with no choice but to take short-term action to protect patient care in the long term."
Picture by: Hannah McKay/PA Wire/Press Association Images