David Cameron was welcomed as “a God” by Tamils during his visit to northern Sri Lanka, but in British domestic politics it continues to be the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who dominates. Paul Goodman described Mr Hunt yesterday as “the man with a plan”noting the return of the traditional family doctor. Patients (or initially those aged over 75) will have a named GP who will be accountable for their care.

Today the front pages carry reports that grossly negligent NHS staff will face imprisonment.

The Daily Mail reports that from October next year we will be able to choose which GP’s surgery we register with – for example, one near our place of work rather than our home. But this is not just about convenience. It is also about competition. There will be an opportunity to switch from a bad GP to a good one. More information will be available to help make that judgment:

Traditional catchment areas will be abandoned, allowing people to sign up with a GP near work or their children’s school.

Patients will also have the option of switching to popular surgeries, which will have Ofsted-style ratings under Jeremy Hunt’s reforms. The Health Secretary has appointed a national inspector to put GP practices into four quality categories, helping patients decide which to use.

‘GPs will have the freedom to take on more patients,’ Mr Hunt told the Mail last night. ‘You will be able to find the most convenient GP practice for you. Whether this is near to your work, your university, your school. This will help to reduce long-term pressures on our A&E services, give real choice to hard-working people, and drive up GPs’ standards.’

By allowing patients to register anywhere, it is expected that highly-rated GP practices and those which offer longer opening hours will thrive.

Less pleasing for Mr Hunt will be the front page of the Daily Telegraph this morning which says:

Despite mild weather, little flu and lower than usual numbers of patients arriving at Accident & Emergency (A&E) units, thousands of
patients, including those requiring urgent surgery, have had operations cancelled since last week.

Senior doctors said they fear that hospitals will be unable to cope when the weather turns, with arctic winds and freezing temperatures
forecast from next week.

On the other hand, the target for 95 per cent of patients arriving at A&E being seen within four hours is generally being met. These figures will be closely watched if we get the cold weather that is predicted. They will be selectively quoted in the coming weeks at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Mr Hunt may be making the political weather, but the real weather offers a challenge to him this winter. Many of his reforms have yet to be fully implemented but he will take responsibility if the NHS struggles to cope.

Labour used to pin their hopes on a flat lining economy. Now they are looking forward to a really cold winter to boost their fortunes – both to provide an A&E crisis and also to leave people struggling to pay their energy bills.

So Mr Hunt is under pressure. But he could come through it as one of the great reforming cabinet ministers of this Government. The names of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove are coupled together so frequently in this regard it is as if they had formed a civil partnership. Perhaps in due course Mr Hunt will have achieved a menage a trois.

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