Jeremy Hunt – 2013 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to the 2013 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been in this job a year now. When I was given it I said that to be responsible for the NHS was the greatest privilege of my life, and so it has been. It has been a wonderful year in a remarkable organisation.

And I’ve been very lucky to have a great team of ministers. Norman Lamb, Dan Poulter, Anna Soubry and Freddie Howe have been terrific. Please put your hands together to thank them for their work.

I actually had an NHS operation on my head last year. You might say there are lots of things wrong with my head, but this was only minor surgery. I was lying on my back in the operating theatre. The surgeon had his scalpel out ready to start when one of the nurses looked at me and said “By the way Mr Hunt, what is it you do for a living?”

I froze. In fact my mind flashed back to when Ronald Reagan was shot. As he was wheeled into the operating theatre, he looked up at the doctors and said “I hope you’re all Republicans”.

I go out onto the frontline most weeks. Not just visiting, but actually rolling up my sleeves, putting on the uniform and mucking in. I have learned more from doing this than I’ve ever found out sitting behind a ministerial desk.

I have done the tea round in a Worthing ward; washed down emergency beds in Watford; answered the phone in a busy London GP surgery; even done a nursing round in Salford. You’ll be relieved to hear that no one has asked me to perform surgery yet.

I’m pleased to say staff are never slow to say when my efforts don’t meet their high standards. Disconcertingly the usual reaction I get is “you’re much nicer than we thought you’d be.”

Going on the frontline you meet some remarkable people.

People like the inspirational Elaine and her team at Salford, running one of the safest hospitals in the country right here on our doorstep.

Or a GP I met in Feltham who had a patient who was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

He went out of his way to visit the patient every day after he finished at work. Then one day he arrived at the patient’s home and was upset to see he’d just died. So he decided to wash and clean him. As he told the patient’s wife “I want this man to go out of his home with dignity.”

To him that was just his job. To me, it’s the NHS. There for us and our families, no matter how old, how frail, how hard-up…treating everyone with dignity, respect and compassion.

That incredible miracle of human nature that happens when one human being is confronted with another who’s unwell. However tired, stressed or busy they feel, they tap into hidden reserves of strength and compassion to comfort and help.

I don’t come from a health background. I ran my own business. I’ve worked in Japan and set up a charity in Africa. But in all of the places I’ve worked I have never seen people strive harder than the doctors, nurses and professionals in our NHS. To all of you who work in the NHS, I want to say thank you for what you do for our country. You make us proud.


But if you love an institution, you are even more determined to sort out any problems.

Which is why every week I make sure I see personally some of the letters that come in about things that have gone wrong.

Recently I read about someone who lost their wife because her records were mixed up and she was given the wrong medicine. Someone else wrote in who had lost their three year old son because the ambulance didn’t get there in time. Someone else had been brushed off when he complained that his father was left lying naked in a public ward.

These are not typical of our NHS or its staff. And things do go wrong sometimes despite everyone’s best efforts.

But the duty of of a Health Secretary, however painful, is to look into these problems, accept responsibility and do what it takes to stop them being repeated.

Which is what happened this year.

Not just at Mid Staffs hospital where so many terrible things happened. But at 11 more hospitals we had to put into special measures all in one go in July, something that has never happened before in the NHS.

So this year we appointed for the first time a Chief Inspector of Hospitals. Modelled on the tough regulatory regime that Ofsted use for our schools, this is someone whose job is to speak out, without fear or favour, about the standards in our hospitals. The nation’s whistleblower in chief.

What Professor Sir Mike Richards finds will not always be comfortable. But his tough new inspections, which started two weeks ago, will mean everyone for the first time will know the answers to some simple questions: how good is my local hospital? Is it safe? Does it have enough staff? Does it put patients first?

I’m sure in most places the answer will be positive. But if it isn’t we need to know and then things will change.


It sounds simple.

But many of these problems should never have happened in the first place.

Let’s be clear – in a huge system like the NHS, things go wrong and mistakes are made whichever party is in power.

But tragically under Labour the system did everything it could to cover up these mistakes.

Giving Morecambe Bay the all-clear in April 2010 despite the deaths of 16 babies. That was wrong.

Giving the all-clear to Basildon and Tameside Hospitals in late 2009 just weeks before stories emerged of blood-spattered wards, patients being treated on trollies and elderly patients left alone unable to eat. That was wrong.

Refusing 81 requests, as their ministers did, for a public inquiry into Mid Staffs. That was wrong.

Forcing a group of grieving families to wait in the snow, wind and rain because the health secretary refused to grant them even one meeting. That too was wrong.

As the country’s leading expert on hospital death rates Professor Sir Brian Jarman says, the Department of Health was a ‘denial machine.’

Indeed the Chair of the CQC talked of the pressure she was put under by a minister in that government not to speak out.

That person, Barbara Young, is no Conservative – in fact she is a Labour peer. So even their own people felt desperately uncomfortable.

To those Labour people who hated what was happening on their watch, I have this to say: you were right.

Covering things up is not only worse for those who suffer. It means the problem doesn’t get fixed and may be repeated.

And then it’s not the rich who suffer, it is the most vulnerable. Disabled children. Older people with dementia. Those with no relatives to kick up a fuss. Ordinary people who put their faith in the system, only to find the system wasn’t there for them when they needed it.

Labour betrayed the very people they claim to stand up for.

But what is even more worrying is they are still in complete denial about what happened.

In his speech last week, Andy Burnham didn’t find time to mention Mid Staffs once. Not once. In the year of the Francis Inquiry, Morecambe Bay, the Keogh report, a brand new inspection regime – none of that was important enough to merit even a single mention by Labour’s health spokesman.

But he did mention privatisation 13 times. They want the whole health debate to be about so-called privatisation.

But use of the independent sector to bring waiting times down and raise standards is not privatisation. It’s what Tony Blair, Alan Milburn, Patricia Hewitt, John Reid and Alan Johnson all believed was right for patients.

Ed Miliband now says that was wrong. But no ideology, left or right, should ever trump the needs of patients.

Because for patients it’s not public vs private. It’s good care vs bad care. And we’ll stamp out bad care wherever we find it – public sector, private sector, hospitals, care homes, surgeries – and never cover it up.

So today I can announce a major reform that will stop Labour or any government ever trying to cover up poor care.

We will legislate in the Care Bill to give the CQC statutory independence, rather like the Bank of England has over interest rates, so ministers can never again lean on it to suppress bad news.

The care of our NHS patients is too important for political meddling – and our new legislation will make sure that ministers always put patients first.


As Conservatives we show our commitment to the NHS by what we do as well as what we say.

And we have a record to be proud of.

We set up the Cancer Drugs Fund which has helped 34,000 people so far.

This week David Cameron has announced it will continue for another two years. Even better would be if Labour in Wales agreed to introduce it there so we stopped the obscenity of Welsh cancer sufferers renting houses in England in order to get the cancer drugs they need to save their lives.

And unlike in Wales, this Government made the difficult choice to protect the NHS budget in the face of unprecedented financial pressure.

And look at what we’ve done with that budget. On basically the same budget in real-terms, the NHS is doing 800,000 more operations every year than Labour’s last year in office AND long waits have actually come down.

In 2010, 18,000 people waited more than a year, now it’s less than 400.  And not just that:

Four million more outpatient appointments every single year;

MRSA rates halved;

Mixed sex wards virtually gone.

8000 fewer managers and 4000 more doctors

All thanks to our Prime Minister David Cameron, whose personal commitment to the NHS has shone like a beacon from the moment he became our leader.


But if we are to prepare the NHS for the future we cannot stop there.

Andrew Lansley courageously put health budgets and decisions on treatment back into the hands of local doctors – and we are seeing huge innovation as a result.

And if there’s one big change we need more than anything, it’s to transform the care older people receive outside hospital.

It’s true for all of us, but especially true for older people that prevention is better than cure. Avoiding that fall down the stairs, stopping an infection going septic, halting the onset of dementia – these are things that give people happy, healthy last years to spend at home surrounded by family and friends. They also saves the NHS money.

To do this, we need to rediscover the ideal of family doctors. Making GPs more accessible for people at work, as today’s announcement about piloting 8 till 8 7 day opening will do.

But also giving GPs the time and space to care proactively for vulnerable older people on their lists, keeping tabs on them and helping them stay well longer.

The last government’s GP contract changes in 2004 abolished named GPs – and in doing so destroyed the personal link between patients and their GPs. Trust between doctor and patient is at the heart of what NHS professionalism stands for – and we should never have allowed that GP contract to undermine it.

So from next April we will be reversing that mistake by introducing a named GP, responsible for proactive care for all vulnerable older people.

Someone to be their champion in the integrated health and social care system that we will be implementing from April following George Osborne’s announcement in July.

Restoring the link between doctor and patient for millions.  And joining up a system which has allowed too many people to fall between the cracks.

And for those who need residential care, we’ll do something else. We’ll stop them ever having to sell the home they have worked hard for all their life to pay for the cost of it.

Our Dilnot reforms will make us one of the first countries in the world where people make proper provision for their care costs just as they do for their pension.


These are big and difficult challenges.

But the party that really cares about the NHS is the party prepared to take tough decisions – so the NHS can be the pride of our children and grandchildren just as it is our pride too.

No to the blind pursuit of targets – but yes to putting patients first.

No to cover ups and ignoring problems – but yes to transparency and sorting them out.

No to pessimism about the future of the NHS – yes to pride and confidence that with courage and commitment it can go from strength to strength.

That’s our Conservative NHS: the doctors party, the nurses party and – yes – the patients party.

Conference we have always been the party of aspiration.  It has always been our dream to make Britain the best country in the world for young people to grow up in.

But we’re also the party that believes in respect for older people.  So as we face the challenge of an ageing population, under our stewardship of the NHS we can do something else too: we can make Britain the best country not just the best country in the world to grow up in, but the best country to grow old in too.

Let’s stop at nothing to make that happen.