Jeremy Hunt interview: I prepared the NHS for the future
Jeremy Hunt has defended his record on hospital care in the West Midlands, claiming he “prepared the NHS for the future” during his turbulent time as Health Secretary.
The outsider in the Tory leadership contest spent six years heading up the Health department.
He is often blamed for the stripping away of 24-hour emergency care in Stafford in the wake of the Mid-Staffs scandal, which has led to overcrowding at other hospitals across the region.
In an interview with the Express & Star, Mr Hunt backed his record as Health Secretary.
He also admitted police cuts had gone too far under the Tories and pledged to put more bobbies on the beat, said he would stamp out illiteracy, and vowed to secure a Brexit deal that would protect British businesses.
He claimed he had a reputation in the West Midlands as being “confident, reliable, safe and trustworthy.”
'It hasn't been easy'
When asked if he felt responsible for the crippling pressures experienced by the region’s crammed A&E departments, he said: “Because of the terrible tragedy that we had at Mid Staffs I brought in some very painful and difficult reforms in the NHS.
“This means that now we’ve got nearly three million more patients using good or outstanding hospitals than when I arrived.
“It hasn’t been an easy process. We uncovered some huge problems at the Heart of England Trust, at the Royal Worcestershire, at the Royal Stoke, as well as Mid Staffs.
“We have been turning those hospitals around, and hospitals today are safer than they were before.
“I recognise that it has not been an easy journey, but in terms of overcrowding of hospitals, we have an ageing population and there are massive pressures on the NHS. That’s why I negotiated the biggest increase in NHS funding in its history – over £20 billion extra to employ more doctors and nurses.
“It takes seven years to train a doctor, so it will take a bit of time for that money to get through.
“What we will see at the end of it is that I was a Health Secretary who prepared the NHS for the future.”
Can he beat Boris?
The Foreign Secretary insisted he was not just “making up the numbers” in a leadership contest that many believe Mr Johnson will win easily.
“I’m the outsider and in these races it is the outsider that wins,” he said, before describing his opponent as “a talented politician who I like enormously”.
Vote in our poll:
“When it gets to the final two members go back to the start and think, who do I actually trust to be our Prime Minister, who do I trust to get us out of the Brexit crisis?
“It was a shock when I got into the final two and I think we are going to have another shock in five weeks time.”
Brexit, Brexit, Brexit
On Brexit, Remain-backer Mr Hunt said he was the candidate who will make sure businesses in the West Midlands were “safe”.
He said people wanted a Prime Minister who would be “sensible, competent, and make sure we leave quickly and in a way that doesn’t damage business”.
Speaking during a visit to Titan Steel Wheels in Kidderminster, he said: “I’m here at a business that makes half the wheels for the whole of Europe that are used off road, for things like diggers and tractors and things like that.
“If we get our Brexit deal wrong, this factory will be closed down and turned into a housing estate, and there’s 350 people employed here.
“I’m a businessman myself, I set up my own business, I know what it’s like to run a business with really thin margins. I think that’s what people in the West Midlands want.”
He did, however, refuse to rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit, saying: “If the only way we can leave is without a deal then that’s what we will do.”
What about knife crime?
Asked about his plans to combat the country’s knife crime epidemic, Mr Hunt conceded that cuts to police budgets “went too far” under the Conservative Government.
“We have got to have more police,” he said, before vowing to “deal with the cause of the problem” by giving young people “a future”.
“We still have a quarter of primary school leavers not able to read or write properly. What future have they got to look forward to?”
Asked whether that was down to the successive Tory administrations cutting education budgets, Mr Hunt said: “I don’t think it is mainly about funding. I think it is mainly about standards.
“If money is part of the issue then we need to look at that.
“I want us to be the Conservative Government that abolished illiteracy and so that every single young person leaves our education system with a rigorous qualification, that means that they can get a decently paid job.”
Mr Hunt needed just two words when giving his view of HS2, saying simply: “Back it.”
He was in the Midlands as he prepared to face off against Mr Johnson today in the first members’ hustings in Birmingham.