You can’t fault Matt Hancock’s work ethic – just everything else | Matt Hancock

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You can’t fault Matt Hancock’s work ethic. While most of his cabinet colleagues have used the pandemic as an excuse to slide beneath the radar, the health secretary has been front of stage almost every day. Whether it’s been taking Downing Street press conferences, giving coronavirus updates to the Commons, threatening to bang up serial liars for 10 years – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove need to watch out – or freelancing as a spokesperson for tourism in the south-west of England, Hancock has been your man.

But it turns out that even that workload isn’t enough to keep him fully occupied, as on Thursday he was back in parliament to outline his plans to completely reorganise the NHS. Perhaps anticipating what was in store, only three backbenchers were in the chamber to hear the statement, but Matt was profoundly unbothered by the lack of an audience. His eyes, which for so long have looked like hollow sockets, regained their sparkle because he was back in his element, living his best life as a junior account executive in a management consultancy. KPMG’s loss has been parliament’s gain. Or possibly vice versa.

Hancock shook with excitement as he began talking in tongues. No opportunity to talk corporate bollocks was passed up as he greedily took the credit for a restructuring that he said would “support and challenge” something or other and “reduce bureaucracy and improve accountability via the fulcrum of integrated care systems”. AKA undoing some of the mess caused by a previous Tory government’s attempts to reorganise the NHS back in 2010. Trying to unfuck previous fuck-ups is an increasingly popular Westminster pastime.

Some might say that the middle of a pandemic was not really the time to embark on wholesale changes to the NHS, Matt acknowledged. But he begged to differ. What better time could there be than when hospitals were overstretched and staff were exhausted? Doctors and nurses would find the excitement of the reorganisation a welcome distraction from their workload; a break from the monotony of having to deal with record patient levels.

The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, didn’t sound wholly convinced. He rather imagined that implementing radical changes during the current crisis might be the one thing too much for most NHS workers. Besides which there might yet be lessons we needed to learn from a crisis that had killed more than 100,000 people and led to 200,000 appointments being delayed for 12 months that had not yet been anticipated.

So, just maybe, it was better to put the thing on hold for a few months and see where we were in the summer. As for the rest of it, he would withhold judgment for now; partly because nothing could be as bad as the “competitive tendering” current system brought in 10 years ago, but mostly because – much like the rest of us – he didn’t fully understand exactly what Hancock intended to do. He’d reserve comment until the health secretary fleshed out his proposals in plain English.

“I’m taking that as cautious support,” Hancock exclaimed excitedly, almost restored to his old Tiggerish self, as he mistook a noncommittal response for something more enthusiastic. Ashworth scratched his head and looked understandably confused. The chair of the health select committee, Jeremy Hunt, who was nursing a broken arm sustained while out running that morning, described the proposed restructuring as “brave”. As in, potentially foolhardy. During his own stint as health secretary, he’d never dared to suggest such changes. However much they may have been needed. The department of health was littered with the bodies of ministers who had come unstuck trying to reorganise the NHS.

As so much of what he said was vague to the point of incomprehensibility – “empowering frontline staff”, “embedding accountability in integrated care systems”, etc – Hancock was able to survive the session almost unscathed. Even though he never did get round to explaining how social care would be integrated with healthcare when the government had still to announce its social care plan.

But that was a minor issue. As was the fact that the video link to Labour’s Imran Hussain went down before the MP had managed to ask his question: Hancock merely chose to answer the question he imagined would have been asked. In Mattworld, everything was going just great. His plan was a surefire success that was all but up and running already and it was only a matter of time before he was acknowledged as the saviour of the NHS. Blessed are the management consultants, for they shall inherit the Earth.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: You can’t fault Matt Hancock’s work ethic – just everything else | Matt Hancock

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