Lessons in PR: how to make a health secretary squirm

Oscar ToHeadshot barts crest

Comment Editor


Whoa, don’t go there, that’s where all my policies come from.

On Saturday, a curious thing happened; doctors were making use of a new-fangled piece of technology to get their point across. The nine year old website, ‘Twitter’ was trending with #ImInWorkJeremy. Doctors thought it was necessary to notify the health secretary Jeremy Hunt as well as the public that they were working over the weekend by utilising the all powerful tool of the selfie. This was in response to the health secretary sending an ultimatum out to doctors to work for seven days a week, something which does in fact, already happen. The campaign was reported across several mainstream news outlets such as the BBC and Daily Mail, unfortunately the trend was not quite strong enough for Buzzfeed to produce a list of sexiest doctors, although it is admittedly hard to look good whilst working on a Saturday morning at 3am.


The dodgy whiteboard in the background is not a sign of poor hospital resources but rather a cheeky photoshop edit.

The health secretary also made a blunder when he tweeted a photo of himself with a group of neurosurgeons as well as the names of all the patients on the board in the background. Whilst this would no doubt lead to an immediate GMC hearing for most doctors, Jeremy is fortunately not a doctor, and does not even need to make an apology when asked. Whilst some might say this is a job perk of being a politician rather than a doctor, others might call this a disgraceful lack of professionalism. Several petitions to sack Jeremy Hunt are now gaining traction with an official government petition to debate a vote of no confidence in the health secretary close to reaching the 100 000 signature threshold.

The campaign marks a high point in doctors embracing not only the use of modern technology but also in taking a stance against government policy. Doctors are often seen as politically neutral with only a pure hearted desire to care for their patients. This marks a significant achievement by the government in making the medical establishment choose sides, especially considering the weak parliamentary opposition produced by… the opposition (what’s Labour meant to be again?).

Indeed Mr Hunt’s attempt to portray consultants as feckless money grabbing thieves has for the first time made healthcare professionals make the news themselves instead of simply having the BMA or Royal societies say they are not very happy in a newspaper article when asked. It seems that this could be the start of new sophisticated campaigns where media spin is finally denounced as utter lies thanks to social media platforms that allow individuals to say so en-masse thereby proving how stupid tabloid newspapers are. Whether the momentum of this campaign will play out remains to be seen.

Whilst there are arguments that a simple image campaign ignores a lot of the discussion and nuances related to the topic at hand, there is also the fact that the initial outlandish statements were based off nothing but political spin in order to grab headlines. Jeremy Hunt’s choice to target consultant contracts became a generalised assault on the NHS for being too lazy. The entire debate ignores facts such as how most weekend cases will be emergencies and as a result skew mortality figures. Thankfully, emergency care runs as usual on weekends. The other issue wilfully ignored by the health secretary is a complete lack of mention of how to staff hospitals to ensure his grandiose plans can be implemented. At current levels, this will lead to skeletal levels of staffing across all seven days of the week.

It is the usual politics of headlines rather than the politics of evidence. But it has become obvious that Mr Hunt clearly isn’t here to produce better patient care but rather to undermine the medical profession. Who else throws ultimatums at people to open discussions unless they plan to start a war? Jeremy Hunt called the BMA a roadblock to reform and that he plans to start a Reformation. If my knowledge of history is correct, this means he plans to start a series of bloodbaths in hospitals over ideology. The NHS is the national religion after all.

Doctors quite rightly have a higher level of public trust than politicians and journalists in this country. The nature of our profession requires high standards of personal integrity and care of our patients. If politicians want to try to undermine us for their own nefarious desires, there is only one option. Much as doctors that defile the professionalism are sent to the GMC, politicians that want to play doctor can expect scrutiny from the real ones. A programme with no evidence base, hunting headlines for personal gain, undermining colleague rights and leaking patient details to 70000 followers would easily be enough for a GMC hearing. Unlike the health secretary, we have a duty to our patients. The twitter campaign needs to be the start of something much bigger, with doctors playing a greater role in scrutinising the government and the media. Our patients can’t afford to wait.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.