Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt (born 1 November 1966) is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs since 2018 and the Member of Parliament for South West Surrey since 2005. He was previously Secretary of State for Health (2012-2018) and Culture Secretary (2010–12).
Hunt was born in Kennington and studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. As Culture Secretary, Hunt spearheaded the drive for local TV, resulting in Ofcom awarding local TV licences to several cities and towns. Hunt also oversaw the 2012 London Olympics, which received widespread acclaim.
As Health Secretary, Hunt was responsible for negotiating a new contract for junior doctors. The proposed contract increased basic pay while reducing the hours that qualified for premium pay, including reclassifying Saturday as "normal hours". Negotiations with the doctors' union, the British Medical Association (BMA) initially failed, resulting in multiple strikes in 2016. An agreement was eventually reached in May 2016 between the BMA leadership and the government. In a subsequent referendum, junior doctors rejected the new contract and in response Hunt imposed the contract in October 2016. During the dispute, the editor of the British Medical Journal, statisticians and the BMA council chair, amongst others, said that Hunt had misrepresented research to support his claim that a lack of adequate staffing in the National Health Service at weekends had led to avoidable deaths.
Early life and education
Jeremy Hunt was born in Lambeth Hospital, Kennington, the eldest son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt, who was then a Commander in the Royal Navy assigned to work for the Director of Naval Plans inside the recently created Ministry of Defence, by his wife Meriel Eve née Givan (now Lady Hunt), daughter of Major Henry Cooke Givan.
Hunt was educated at Charterhouse School where he was Head Boy. He then studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, and graduated with a first class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. He became involved in Conservative politics while at university, where David Cameron and Boris Johnson were contemporaries. He was active in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), and was elected to serve as President in 1987.
On his return to Britain he tried his hand at a number of different entrepreneurial business ventures, including a failed attempt to export marmalade to Japan. In 1991, Hunt co-founded a public relations agency named Profile PR specialising in IT with Mike Elms, a childhood friend.
Hunt and Elms later sold their interest in Profile PR to concentrate on directory publishing. Together they founded a company known as Hotcourses in the 1990s, a major client of which is the British Council. Hunt stood down as director of the company in 2009, however still retained 48% of the shares in the company which were held in a blind trust, before Hotcourses was sold in January 2017 for over £30 million to Australian education organisation IDP Education. He personally gained over £14 million from the sale.
Member of Parliament
Hunt was elected at the 2005 general election, after the previous Conservative MP Virginia Bottomley was created a life peeress. He was elected to represent the constituency of South West Surrey with a majority of 5,711.
After supporting David Cameron's bid for leadership of the Conservative Party, he was appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People in December 2005. In the same year, he was a co-author of a policy pamphlet Direct Democracy: An Agenda For A New Model Party which included statements supporting denationalising the NHS and suggested replacing it with "universal insurance". Hunt later denied that the policy pamphlet expresses his views. In David Cameron's reshuffle of 2 July 2007, Hunt joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. When the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition following the 2010 general election, Hunt was appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (combining the roles of leading the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with that of Minister for the Olympics). He was consequently appointed a Privy Councillor on 13 May 2010.
Hunt supported Britain remaining in the European Union (EU) in the 2016 referendum. After the result which supported Brexit was announced, Hunt suggested a second referendum on the terms of any exit deal with him personally backing one in which the UK would stay in the single market. In 2017 he stated that he had changed his mind, and now supported Brexit, citing the "arrogance of the EU Commission" in responding to the UK government in the Brexit negotiations.
Culture Secretary (2010–12)
In September 2010, The Observer reported "raised eyebrows" when Hunt's former parliamentary assistant, Naomi Gummer, was given a job within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on a fixed-term civil service contract after Hunt had proposed departmental cuts of 35–50 per cent. The head of the Public and Commercial Services Union questioned Hunt's motives saying, "Political independence of the civil service is a fundamental part of our democracy and we would be deeply concerned if this was being put at risk by nepotism and privilege." Gummer is the daughter of a Conservative life peer, Lord Chadlington, who was a director of Hotcourses between 2000 and 2004.
As Culture Secretary, Hunt devised and championed a plan to give Britain the fastest broadband speeds in Europe. There was initial scepticism about his plans with concerns they could lead to BT regaining its monopoly. While speeds did increase when he was in office this was, in the main, due to customers switching to different packages. He also spearheaded the drive for local TV and as a result of this policy Ofcom awarded local television licences to Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Sheffield, Southampton, and Swansea. In terms of culture policy, his main focus was to boost philanthropy given the spending cuts that the arts along with other sectors was experiencing. Tax breaks were introduced to boost inheritance tax and gifts of works of art.
During Hunt's tenure, competition and policy issues relating to media and telecommunications became the responsibility of the Culture Secretary; they were removed from the purview of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, after Cable was recorded stating that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.
Hunt was consequently given the quasi-judicial power to adjudicate over the News Corporation takeover bid for BSkyB. Hunt chose not to refer to the deal to the Competition Commission, announcing on 3 March 2011 that he intended to accept a series of undertakings given by News Corporation, paving the way for the deal to be approved. Following a series of scandals concerning phone hacking, a House of Commons motion was planned that called on News Corporation to abandon the bid. The bid was eventually dropped. Hunt was alleged to have had improper contact with News Corp. Emails released to the Leveson Inquiry detailed contacts between Hunt's special advisor Adam Smith and Frédéric Michel, News Corp's director of public affairs and therefore a lobbyist for James Murdoch. The revelations led to calls from the Labour opposition and others for Hunt's resignation. Smith, Hunt's special adviser, resigned on 25 April shortly before Hunt made an emergency parliamentary statement in which he said that Smith's contact with Michel was "clearly not appropriate". Hunt said Lord Justice Leveson should be able to investigate and rule on the accusations and requested the earliest date possible to give evidence to the Inquiry to set out his side of the story. Hunt appeared before the Leveson inquiry on 31 May 2012, when it emerged that Hunt had himself been in text and private email contact with James Murdoch. Journalist Iain Martin claimed that at a 2010 event held at UCL which Murdoch attended he saw Hunt hide behind a tree to avoid being seen by journalists: "I wandered back into the party and ran into one of the organisers. The Culture Secretary is out there hiding behind a tree, I said. We know, came the response, but he doesn’t want to come in because all the media correspondents are here." Hunt later told the Leveson Inquiry that "I thought, this is not the time to have an impromptu interview, so I moved to a different part of the quadrangle...there may or may not have been trees!"
Lord Justice Leveson cleared Hunt of bias when the report was published, stating that "in some respects, there was much to commend in Mr Hunt's handling of the bid". He concluded: "What was not evident from the close consideration of events which the Inquiry undertook was any credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt. Whatever he had said, both publicly and in private, about News Corp or the Murdochs, as soon as he was given the responsibility for dealing with the bid the evidence demonstrates a real desire on his part to get it right. His actions as a decision maker were frequently adverse to News Corp's interests. He showed a willingness to follow Ofcom's advice and to take action, to the extent recommended by the regulators, in response to the consultation."
As Culture Secretary, Hunt was the government minister responsible for the London Olympics and Paralympics. When it transpired that contractors G4S could not provide enough security staff for the Games, Hunt announced that soldiers would be drafted in and that he had been forced to "think again" about the default use of private contractors. Hunt took the decision to double the budget for the Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony which received acclaim, and overall the Games were considered a huge success internationally. According to Danny Boyle, the Artistic Director for the opening ceremony, the government initially suggested removing the section of the opening ceremony about the NHS, although Hunt denied this. The Games received widespread acclaim for their organisation, with the volunteers, the British military and public enthusiasm praised particularly highly. In the aftermath, Hunt set up the school games as an Olympic Legacy project. Although there was criticism at the time of cuts in the school sports budget, 11,953 schools took part in the School Games in the first year. Hunt also pushed to increase the emphasis on the importance of the tourism industry, especially the potential of the Chinese tourist market.
Health Secretary (2012–present)
Hunt was appointed Health Secretary in a cabinet reshuffle on 4 September 2012, succeeding Andrew Lansley. He described the appointment as a "huge task and the biggest privilege of my life." The chair of the British Medical Association, Dr Mark Porter, said "The appointment of a new Health Secretary provides a fresh opportunity for doctors and government to work together to improve patient care and deal with the many challenges facing the NHS."
The deputy chairman of the same association, Dr Kailash Chand, said "Jeremy Hunt is new Health Secretary—disaster in the NHS carries on. I fear a more toxic right winger to follow the privatisation agenda." Hunt had previously co-authored a book calling for the NHS "to be replaced by a new system of health provision in which people would pay money into personal health accounts, which they could then use to shop around for care from public and private providers. Those who could not afford to save enough would be funded by the state."
The Daily Telegraph science correspondent Tom Chivers expressed concern that Hunt is known to have supported homoeopathy and Daily Telegraph Medical Editor Rebecca Smith said "his views on abortion and homoeopathy have made him a controversial figure to appoint as Health Secretary". In 2014 Hunt asked the Chief Medical Officer to initiate expert reviews of three homoeopathic studies carried out by Boiron, a French manufacturer of homoeopathic products. However, in a radio interview in September 2014 with LBC, Hunt denied personally being a supporter, and blamed his inexperience as a new MP for previously signing a pro-homeopathy early day motion. However he did support NHS funding for it if recommended by a doctor.
In June 2013, he said that the regional variations in premature deaths throughout the United Kingdom were shocking. The table revealed that Liverpool and Manchester were among the places with the highest rates of premature death in the United Kingdom.
In June 2013 he also announced plans to charge foreign nationals for using the NHS, claiming that the cost was up to £200 million though official figures put it at £33 million. However, £21 million of that £33 million was already recovered, putting the actual cost at £12 million – less than Hunt's crackdown could cost.
It was reported in December 2013 that Hunt was personally telephoning the Chairs of NHS hospital trusts where targets in Accident and Emergency Departments (A & E) had been missed, a course of action described as "crazy" by David Prior, chairman of the Care Quality Commission. Prior, a former Conservative MP, said that whilst Hunt, like his Labour predecessors, took responsibility, the result was money being diverted from primary and community care to A & E. However Dr Clifford Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, blamed the problems on the Health and Social Care Act 2012 for causing "decision-making paralysis" and leaving the country short of around 375 emergency doctors.
In March 2014, Hunt announced that the government would not give a recommended 1% pay rise to NHS non-medical staff receiving progression pay (around 55% of total non-medical staff).
In an interview with the Health Service Journal in November 2014 he said he wanted to stay as Health Secretary until 2017. He has also declared that patient choice was not key to improving NHS performance, in a major break from a policy favoured by Conservative and Labour governments over the past 12 years. He stated that "there are natural monopolies in healthcare, where patient choice is never going to drive change". Following a pre-election report in April 2015 that hospital chiefs shared an average 6% pay rise totalling £35 million, Hunt promised to investigate if the Conservatives won the election. In July 2015, he broke patient confidentiality by tweeting a publicity photo with patient details visible on a board behind him.
In July 2015 Jeremy Hunt became the subject of the first petition on a new UK Government website to reach the threshold of 100,000 signatures required for a petition to be considered for debate in Parliament. The petition, launched by a consultant, called for a debate on a vote of "No Confidence" in Mr Hunt as Health Secretary. The petition ultimately recorded 222,991 signatures leading to a debate on the motion being scheduled on 14 September 2015. However, the Petitions Committee does not have the power to initiate a vote of no confidence, and rather than the full House debate it, the committee instead debated the contracts and conditions of the NHS staff. The Government response on the petition website also failed to address the issue of confidence in Hunt.
In 2015, an undercover Daily Telegraph investigation showed that in some cases locum agencies, Medicare and Team24 owned by Capita were charging some hospitals higher fees than others and giving false company details. The agencies were charging up to 49% of the fee. Hunt criticised those who sought "big profits" at the expense of the NHS and taxpayers and promised to "reduce the margins rip-off agencies are able to generate."
Hunt again drew condemnation from medical professionals when it was reported on 30 January 2016 he had suggested that parents should go online to look at photos of rashes if worried that a child may have meningitis. Specific disapproval was drawn to the fact that a rash caused by deadly meningitis can look very similar to other conditions, as well as professionals pointing out the time-critical nature of meningitis. Many doctors took to social media to highlight the dangers of these statements, with their professional opinion being that the comments made by Hunt were potentially dangerous from a public health perspective. The charity Meningitis Now said his advice was "potentially fatal".
In May 2016, a report by the House of Commons public accounts committee criticised Hunt's plan for a seven-day NHS, saying "no coherent attempt" had made to understand staffing needs, the plan was "completely uncosted", and contained "serious flaws".
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday in October, Hunt called for a reduction in the number of foreign doctors working in the NHS after the UK left the EU. At the Conservative Party Conference later in the month, Hunt pledged that by 2025, the NHS would be "self-sufficient in doctors". He announced an increase of up to 1,500 extra places at medical schools in the UK in 2018, with it being partly funded by an increase in international medical student fees. Hunt also stated UK medical students would be forced to work in the NHS for at least four years or have to repay the cost of their training, around £220,000.
NHS weekend cover
In July 2015, Hunt indicated that he would be prepared to impose a new consultant contract on doctors in England which would remove the opt out for non-emergency work on weekends. He stated this was to prevent "about 6,000 avoidable deaths" resulting from a "Monday to Friday culture" in some areas of the NHS and to reintroduce "a sense of vocation" in consultants. The comments angered many doctors who responded by sharing photographs of themselves working at the weekends via social media using the hashtag #I'matWorkJeremy. It later emerged in February 2016 that the "6,000 avoidable deaths" figure was based on Hunt's own understanding of an unpublished, unreviewed study that he had access to before its publication as Freemantle et al. Increased mortality associated with weekend hospital admission: a case for expanded seven day services? in September 2015. The latter had been denied by NHS England's Freedom of Information Officer in October 2015. At the time NHS England also asked one of the authors to corroborate Hunt's figures who refused to do so, stating that it would interfere with the peer review of the unpublished paper; in response they reframed the figure as being based on earlier studies on its website in August 2015.
In October 2015, Hunt was accused by the editor of The BMJ Fiona Godlee of repeatedly misrepresenting a study published in the journal in the same year by Freemantle et al. on the weekend effect to parliament and the public. He had used the study as key evidence when stating in parliament and in interviews with the media that reduced staffing levels of doctors at weekends directly led to 11,000 excess deaths. Godlee asserted that the study's authors did not specify that the excess deaths were avoidable or that staffing levels were the cause. The lead author of the study Nick Freemantle, when asked about the study in February 2016, stated that they did not identify a cause for the excess deaths or establish the extent to which they were avoidable. Co-author NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh in response to Hunt's comments in October also stated "It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable".
Hunt was also criticised for the fact that his claims about hospitals being more unsafe at weekends not merely misrepresented the facts but had potentially caused patients to delay going into hospitals and thus put them at risk. His critics described the Hunt Effect where patients who needed medical attention at a weekend had been deterred from doing so because they were persuaded that it would be better to wait until a Monday. Statisticians Professor David Spiegelhalter and David Craven, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, Heidi Alexander, the shadow health secretary also denounced Hunt for making misleading statements about weekend hospital treatment after his assertion in parliament in the same month that "currently, across all key specialties, in only 10% of our hospitals are patients seen by a consultant within 14 hours of being admitted at the weekend." Professor Speigelhalter stated that the data from NHS England showed that on average 79% of patients are seen within 14 hours by a consultant across all specialities and that this data is collected for the whole week so it would be flawed to state figures for the weekend as Hunt did. NHS England confirmed that it would not be possible to separate weekend and weekday performance from the data.
In January 2016, Hunt was criticised by top stroke doctors for using out-of-date data to try to show that stroke patients are more likely to die if they are admitted at weekends. In a letter to The Sunday Times, they wrote that there had been significant improvements since 2004–12, when the data Hunt had referenced came from, and that new data showed there was "no longer any excess of hospital deaths in patients with stroke admitted at the weekend." Stroke specialist David Curtis said even the outdated statistics didn't support Hunt's claims.
In February 2016, a mid-January internal report by the Department of Health titled "Seven-day NHS – update on progress and plans" was leaked to The Guardian newspaper. The report stated the department were unable to find evidence to prove a link between increased consultant presence, availability of diagnostic tests, and reducing weekend mortality and length of stay. It also highlighted that the seven-day NHS could cost an additional £900 million each year, required the recruitment of 11,000 more staff including 4,000 doctors and 3,000 nurses, and that community and social services could struggle to handle more discharges at the weekend.
In May 2016, another study also concluded there was no evidence that people were more likely to die in hospitals at the weekend. In addition, a cross-sectional analysis did not detect a correlation between weekend staffing of hospital specialists and mortality risk for emergency admissions. In August, internal risk management documents produced by civil servants in the Department of Health in July were leaked to The Guardian newspaper and Channel 4. Within these, they described 13 major risks in delivering the "truly seven-day NHS" pledge promised by the Conservative party prior to the 2015 general election. These included a lack of staff and funding for the policy. The documents also discussed that no advance impact assessments had been made to show how the policy would affect the delivery of NHS services. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, the organisation that represents NHS services in England described the seven-day NHS plan as "impossible to deliver" due to a lack of funding and staffing. He also highlighted pressures on the NHS with 80% of acute hospitals in England in financial deficit compared to 5% in 2013 and an increase of missed A&E waiting time targets from 10% to 90% in the same time period.
Junior doctors' contracts
In September 2015, the Department of Health announced that they would impose new contracts for junior doctors in England after the British Medical Association (BMA), a professional association and trade union representing doctors said that they would not re-enter negotiations, despite the independent Doctors' and Dentists' remuneration review body recommending the deal. The new contracts would extend "normal hours", for which doctors would not be paid a premium, from 7 am to 7 pm Mondays to Fridays to 7 am to 10 pm on every day except Sunday while increasing their basic pay in a move that Hunt claimed to be cost neutral. These terms were based on recommendations made by the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration (DDRB) who produced a report in July 2015. In response the BMA balloted its members for industrial action, the first since the 1970s. They argued that the contract would include an increase in working hours with a relative pay cut of up to 40%, and refused to re-enter negotiations unless Hunt dropped his threat to impose a new contract and extensive preconditions, which he had refused to do. The Department of Health responded, saying "We are not cutting the pay bill for junior doctors and want to see their basic pay go up just as average earnings are maintained." The strike vote started on 5 November. Many junior doctors said they would leave the NHS if the contract was forced through.
Hunt later tried to re-assure the BMA that no junior doctor would face a pay cut, before admitting that those who worked longer than 56 hours a week would face a fall in pay. Hunt said that working these long hours was unsafe, claiming that existing pay arrangements were known colloquially in the NHS as "danger money", although a Facebook survey carried out by one doctor showed that 99.7% of 1,200 respondents had never heard of the term.
In November 2015 he said he would offer a basic pay increase of 11%, but still removing compensation for longer hours. In response, the BMA junior doctors committee chair, Johann Malawana, said "Junior doctors need facts, not piecemeal announcements and we need to see the full detail of this latest, eleventh hour offer to understand what, in reality, it will mean for junior doctors. We have repeatedly asked for such detail in writing from the Secretary of State, but find, instead, that this has been released to media without sharing it with junior doctors' representatives" and "The proposals on pay, not for the first time, appear to be misleading. The increase in basic pay would be offset by changes to pay for unsocial hours, devaluing the vital work junior doctors do at evenings and weekends."
On 11 February 2016, Hunt announced he would be unilaterally imposing the new junior doctors' contract without agreement or further negotiation, with NHS trusts instructed to introduce it in August. This followed a letter by David Dalton, the chief negotiator for the government and NHS Employers, to the government on the preceding day who indicated that junior doctors contract negotiations had ceased after his final offer to the BMA had been declined and to "do what it deems necessary to end uncertainty for the service". The letter was also signed by nineteen other chief executives of NHS foundation trusts, a majority of whom withdrew support after the announcement of imposition. The decision to impose angered many junior doctors, with some indicating that they would quit the NHS. Hunt acknowledged this by saying that there would be "considerable dismay", and also announced an urgent inquiry led by the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges Susan Bailey into junior doctors' morale and welfare. He was criticised for the irony of this, especially as the review terms specifically excluded working hours and wages. The Academy Trainee Doctors' Group (representatives for junior doctors from different royal colleges) voted unanimously to not participate in the review under the offered terms.
In response to his decision to impose the new junior doctors contract, Maureen Baker, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said "Imposing a deal on junior doctors is wrong-headed, will inevitably damage morale across the NHS – and may damage patient care". The surgical royal colleges made a joint statement condemning the imposition: "Doctors in training are essential for the delivery of safe, high-quality patient care. The imposition of a contract takes us even further away from a goal to make the NHS the most attractive place in the world for doctors to work and risks permanent damage to the future of the medical workforce". The president of the Royal College of Physicians Jane Dacre and the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Neena Modi also criticised the imposition of the contract citing concerns related to junior doctors' morale and patient care. The BMA's junior doctors committee chair Johann Malawana responding to the imposition said: "...junior doctors cannot and will not accept a contract that is bad for the future of patient care, the profession and the NHS as a whole, and we will consider all options open to us." Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, supported the imposition as he believed the contract to be "fair and safe for doctors, and patients." Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, also supported the imposition as a means of ending the uncertainty around the dispute. Ian Cumming, the chief executive of Health Education England (HEE), sent a letter to all the chief executives of NHS Foundation trusts indicating that if they refused to implement the imposed national contract, HEE could cut funding for training posts in their trust.
In March 2016, the editor of The BMJ, Fiona Godlee, wrote an editorial in which she accused Hunt of misusing statistics on weekend deaths to attack the medical profession, and that his approach to the dispute had led to the demoralising of doctors which may have compromised existing progress towards a seven-day NHS.
Later in the month, the government released its equality impact assessment on the contract. It recognised that features of the new contract would disadvantage women (in particular because the increase in antisocial hours would make it more difficult for mothers to find childcare and also because it would not include maternity leave when calculating time in service) and stated that "Any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim." The assessment angered doctors and drew condemnation from the Medical Women's Federation and the presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Surgeons, and Royal College of General Practitioners. The Equality and Human Rights Commission warned that was potentially illegal, and the BMA said they would seek judicial review.
Junior doctors' strikes
On 19 November 2015 the result of the BMA strike ballot was announced, with 99.4% in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98% voting for full strike action on a turnout of 76%. After the results were announced, the BMA council chair Mark Porter appealed to the health secretary to resume negotiations facilitated by Acas. Hunt said the result of the ballot was "very disappointing", but declined the appeal for arbitration. He was criticised for failing to appear in Parliament to answers MPs' questions about the strike, with his deputy saying he was too busy preparing for the strike.
On 30 November 2015, Hunt eventually agreed to discussions overseen by Acas and withdrew his threat to impose a new contract without agreement, and the first day of strike action was called off hours before it was due to start which was too late to avoid some disruption, with later planned strikes suspended.
On 24 December 2015, Johann Malawana, leader of the BMA's junior doctors committee (JDC), gave a 4 January 2016 deadline for the talks to result an acceptable outcome, or industrial action would be announced. An agreement was not reached by this deadline and so the BMA announced that a strike would go ahead, blaming "the government's continued failure to address junior doctors' concerns about the need for robust contractual safeguards on safe working, and proper recognition for those working unsocial hours." A later leak of messages from a private Whatsapp group of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, showed Malawana describing the ACAS mediated discussions as "rubbish" suggesting to other members to participate to look "reasonable".
On 7 January 2016, it was reported by The Independent that a supposedly independent response to the initial strike plans from Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of NHS England, had been strengthened by Department of Health officials and approved by Hunt. The letter had angered junior doctors as it asked for assurances from the BMA that doctors would respond promptly to the aftermath of a major incident such as the November 2015 Paris attacks if it occurred during a strike. Email exchanges obtained by the newspaper showed evidence that Department of Health officials suggested edits to Keogh's letter including the plea for assurance of doctors' availability in the event of a major incident. Subsequently, more than 1,000 doctors called on Keogh to resign and accused Hunt of exploiting Keogh for political gain. Keogh and the Department of Health responding by stating that it was "entirely appropriate" to co-ordinate a response to strike action.
The first day of strike action was 12 January and involved junior doctors only providing emergency care. Hunt claimed it was "unnecessary", that patients could be put at risk, and that many junior doctors had "ignored" the strike call and worked anyway, but the BMA responded that many junior doctors were in work maintaining emergency care as planned. Further strikes planned for the 26 and 27 January were called off by the BMA. A second day of strike action occurred on 10 February where doctors again provided only emergency care. An Ipsos MORI poll conducted before the strike action showed 66% support from the public and that 64% blamed the government for the contract dispute. According to unnamed sources at the BMA, Hunt personally vetoed a deal that could have ended the strikes, something Hunt would neither confirm nor deny. In February 2016, he was polled as the "most disliked" frontline British politician.
In response to Hunt's announcement in February of the imposition of the new junior doctors' contract, the BMA announced three 48-hour long strikes where junior doctors would only provide emergency care to occur on 9–11 March, 6–8 April, and 26–28 April. They also issued a legal challenge over the contract asserting that the government had not sufficiently undertaken an equality impact assessment of the contract before its imposition. On 23 March, the BMA announced the escalation of the last of these strikes to the withdrawal of junior doctors from emergency services from 8 am to 5 pm on 26–27 April, with emergency care provided by consultants. Hunt responded to the escalation by stating that "the matter is closed" and that nothing would stop the imposition of the new contract, dismissing a proposal for independent evaluation as "opportunism". NHS England estimated junior doctor turnout for the 26–27 April strike to be 78%. No patient safety incidents related to the strike action were reported in any of the Foundation Trusts.
On 5 May, the Government agreed to suspend imposition for five days for further talks. Hunt stated that the negotiations should focus on Saturday pay as the only remaining issue while the BMA stated they would discuss other problems such as safe working hours, recruitment and retention of doctors, and gender equality in the new contract.
On 18 May it was announced that these talks had resulted in an agreement, to be put to a referendum. Hunt admitted he had lessons to learn, but continued to deny any personal responsibility for the dispute. The referendum was open to BMA members who were junior doctors or medical students in the final two years of their degree. The result was announced on 5 July with the contract being rejected by 58% of voters with a 68% turnout. Following this, BMA JDC leader Johann Malawana resigned, and Hunt rejected holding any further talks with the BMA and announced the imposition of the new contract on junior doctors starting from October. On 31 August, newly appointed JDC leader Ellen McCourt announced a series of five-day strikes which were later suspended on 24 September, citing concerns of their impact on patient safety.
In 2009, Hunt was investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The commissioner found: "Mr Hunt was in breach of the rules in not reducing his claims on the Additional Costs Allowance in that period to take full account of his agent's living costs. As a result, public funds provided a benefit to the constituency agent ... Mr Hunt received no real financial benefit from the arrangement and that the error was caused by his misinterpretation of the rules."
Hunt’s offer to repay half the money (£9,558.50) was accepted. Hunt repaid £1,996 for claiming the expenses of his Farnham home while claiming the mortgage of his Hammersmith home. The commissioner said: "Mr Hunt has readily accepted that he was in error, and in breach of the rules of the House, in making a claim for utilities and other services on his Farnham home in the period during which it was still his main home. He has repaid the sum claimed, £1,996, in full. It is clear that, as a new Member in May 2005, his office arrangements were at best disorganised." The Legg Report showed no other issues.
In June 2010, Hunt attracted controversy for suggesting football hooliganism played a part in the death of 96 football fans in the Hillsborough disaster; when it has been suggested that a lack of police control and the presence of terraces and perimeter fences were established as the causes of the tragedy. He later apologised saying "I know that fan unrest played no part in the terrible events of April 1989 and I apologise to Liverpool fans and the families of those killed and injured in the Hillsborough disaster if my comments caused any offence."
In April 2012, the Daily Telegraph disclosed that Hunt had reduced his tax bill by over £100,000 by receiving dividends from Hotcourses in the form of property which was promptly leased back to the company. The dividend in specie was paid just before a 10% rise in dividend tax and Hunt was not required to pay stamp duty on the property.
In 2012, Hunt attempted to downgrade casualty and maternity units in Lewisham. Hunt stated that the cuts were necessary because neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust had been losing more than £1m every week. But a campaign led by GP Dr Louise Irvine defeated Hunt in court in 2012 on this issue. Mr Justice Silber ruled that Mr Hunt acted outside his powers when he announced casualty and maternity units at Lewisham Hospital would be downgraded. The judge stated it was quite clear that the Lewisham GP commissioners did not give support to the proposals. He said, "On the contrary, they strongly opposed them although those GP commissioners in a number of surrounding but different areas were happy with them. I considered that it was the absence of support from the local GP commissioners which constituted an additional reason why the decision of the Secretary of State cannot stand." Hunt was accused of 'a disgraceful waste of taxpayers money' when he appealed the decision. But judges upheld an earlier ruling that Mr Hunt did not have the power to downgrade A&E and maternity services at Lewisham.
In July 2016 a cross-party committee of MP's ascertained that Hunt had 'broken his pledges on NHS funding and is misleading the public about health service reforms'. Specifically, it found that 'contrary to government claims to be injecting an extra £8.4bn into the NHS on top of inflation by 2020/21, the real figure was more likely to be £4.5bn'. The committee claimed the 'Government has used a different definition of spending to calculate the figures which made it appear that a larger increase in spending had occurred than was actually they case'.
In October 2016 Hunt was pressed on the issue of NHS funding by the Health Select Committee. Specifically, on the fact that in the previous November Hunt promised the NHS would receive an extra £10 billion a year above inflation, in the five years to 2020. But when questioned he conceded that in the accounts offered for spending had been stretched to include the previous year. This would therefore act to misleadingly inflate the spending figure by £1.5bn, according to a recent report. When challenged by the Heath Select Committee, Hunt admitted "This amount of cash is being handed to the NHS... over the six years." He confirmed the period "includes the spending review period and an extra year". It is this use of an 'extra year' in the accounts which added further fuel to the claim that Hunt has knowingly misled the public on public health funding.
In January 2017, the British Red Cross described a 'humanitarian crisis' in Winter Care, which was linked to the ongoing claims of 'systematic underfunding of the NHS.' During the fallout, Hunt was again accused of 'hiding', with opposition parties 'rounding on him for keeping a low profile.' The Department of Health said it was 'leaving it to NHS England, a non-departmental public body that oversees the NHS day-to-day, to comment on the response to the unfolding winter crisis'.
Female Genital Mutilation
In March 2017 it was reported by The Independent that the Health Secretary found former civil servant and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaigner Nimco Ali via a Google search and subsequently the pair met at his Whitehall office four years ago. She said Hunt's first direct question to her was "What I really want to know Nimco, is, can girls like you have an orgasm?" The Department of Health refused to comment on Ali's allegation.
- Jeremy Hunt (1966–2005)
- Jeremy Hunt MP (2005–2010)
- The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP (2010–)