Hunt rewrote the rule book for how long we can expect Health Secretaries to remain in post, and in a move which demonstrates just how much health has become a  personal crusade for Jeremy Hunt, this week we saw him elected to the helm of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

Hunt’s approach to chairing the committee

There is no doubt that Hunt’s intimate knowledge of the health and care system will mean he is able to hold government to account like few others can. But will he find he is personally walking a difficult line of asking the right questions to government, while not trampling over his own record?

Looking at recent speeches and comments in the Commons since January, Hunt has billed himself as someone who held the government to account from the inside. In the debate on the NHS funding bill, he outlined his lasting regret that previous Prime Ministers chose not to talk about funding social care – an issue of unfinished business for the former Secretary. Such comments would also have provided a strong indication to Conservative MPs and other parties that he will not shy away from criticising the government and signally a more rational approach to being chair.

Jeremy is a man of considerable personal wealth, who has already committed some of this wealth to establishing a new charity – Patient Safety Watch. It would be interesting indeed – although there have been no reports to suggest it yet – if he was to turbocharge his Committee’s work with resources of the kind that few other parliamentary committees have at their disposal.

What will he be focusing on as chair?

There are a number of key issues Hunt cites as his personal passions, which reflect the issues he dealt with during his time in office. The first, as we have heard in his speeches, is pressing the government to secure a funding settlement for social care. He’s outlined this on Twitter as a primary concern too.

We also know that throughout his tenure as Secretary of State patient safety was his passion, triggered by his first task of having to respond to the Francis Inquiry into the failings of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. We are therefore likely to see robust scrutiny of the health system, and the health professional and system regulators – like the GMC, NMC, CQC and MHRA. And as so many of these failings centred around maternity, and this issue has very recently flared up again, this will likely feature as a key topic.

Linked to patient safety is support for the future health and care workforce. Readers will recall the battles Jeremy Hunt and the Department had with the BMA on junior doctors’ contracts and RCN-led strikes about nurses pay, or perhaps more constructively Hunt’s introduction of a ‘duty of candour’. Indeed, when the NHS People’s Plan lands in the next few months, we might expect the future workforce to be one of the newly elected committee’s earliest enquiries.

Finally, we should also mention his focus on mental health. Hunt proudly introduced waiting time targets for mental health care, and often talks about the improvements the department made, but there is still some way to go to see true parity of esteem. An enquiry may be on the horizon following the recent review of the mental health act and recommendations for change.

As further elements of the Long Term Plan continue to be implemented and legislation finally gets moving through Parliament, it’s important that Hunt, and the rest of the committee once elected, focus on these challenges ahead. One thing is for certain: whether this is a personal crusade or unfinished business, this is definitely Hunt’s next big job in politics.  

Who are the other key committee chairs for health and the life sciences?

  • Science and Technology Committee – Greg Clark MP, former Business Minister and prior to this Universities and Science Minister
  • Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee – Rachel Reeves MP, re-elected to post
  • Brexit Committee – Hilary Benn MP, re-elected to post
  • Public Accounts Committee – Meg Hillier MP, re-elected to post

A list of all the select committee chairs can be found here.