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Sajid Javid brings back face-to-face appointments with GPs – then fails to show up to his own

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We’re well used to auto-parodic politics by now. So much so that it is barely even worth noting that Sajid Javid should, in the morning, launch his “rescue plan” for GPs, of which the main focus is a drive to return to face-to-face appointments and then, at lunchtime, at the very last minute, fail to honour a longstanding face-to-face GP appointment of his own, to address the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference.

It’s not been made altogether clear why this last-minute change of plan occurred. Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money is wasted each year through NHS appointment no-shows, to the extent that it is often suggested such behaviour should incur a fine. How much Javid should be billed for his own failure to turn up is a matter of personal taste but, in the health secretary’s defence, the many terrible afflictions – several of them almost certainly terminal – suffered by his rescue plan had been very publicly diagnosed long before he did so.

Few things more clearly demonstrate the dysfunctionality of Conservative Party politics than its Covid health secretary triptych. A once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic is, arguably, the time at which you might want to have the most experienced person around to be doing the job, or at least to be in the cabinet. But as Jeremy Hunt had the temerity to make it to the final two against Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership, he has instead been spending the pandemic mainly writing reports about how badly the government has got everything wrong.

Matt Hancock, being Matt Hancock, was eliminated extremely early on in that contest, almost immediately after the stage lights failed at the launch speech so that the TV cameras could see only a Hancock-shaped silhouette marching about in the darkness talking about his “emotionally charged platform”. But not before he posed for grinning pictures in front of a sign containing his own surname and an arrow, unwisely obscuring the first syllable with his head.

But, having failed, it was safe for him to be rewarded with the lowly job of health secretary, from which he was sacked not for, as Dominic Cummings has alleged, knowingly evacuating thousands of untested hospital patients into care homes and covering it up, causing huge numbers of avoidable deaths, but for snogging one of his advisers in front of a CCTV camera.

And in his place we now have Sajid Javid, who appears to have big ideas for sorting out the NHS’s many structural problems, but who has to cope with his predecessor but one, Jeremy Hunt, now an influential backbench committee chairman, patiently but certainly pointing out that they definitely won’t work.

On Thursday morning, it was Javid’s turn to tour the breakfast news studios, and it was his turn to apologise for the government’s handling of the pandemic, which none other than Jeremy Hunt has described as “one of the UK’s worst ever public health failures”. He declined to do so, and with some justification, as he wasn’t in the government. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has said nothing, choosing instead to go on holiday to Marbella and knowingly pose for paparazzi photographs in his painting overalls, with his easel, in arguably his most daring Winston Churchill cosplay character outfit yet.

He did, though, want to talk about his GP rescue plan, which amounts to an absurd extra £250m to get through the winter, and a commitment to more face-to-face appointments.

It took Jeremy Hunt about an hour to make his views clear, via the medium of eight tweets. “This is a burnt-out workforce running on empty because of a massive mismatch between supply and demand,” he said. It’s all very well recruiting more GPs but you can’t recruit them faster than they’re retiring or simply leaving, because he tried that years ago. You need to encourage people with good medical training, from countries like Canada and Australia to come here – again, best of luck with that.

What you need is a “complete overhaul”. And even then, it probably won’t be enough. To the mere outsider, it sounds like what you really need is Jeremy Hunt making some of the decisions, instead of patiently writing reports or tweets about how badly everything’s being done. But where would be the sense in that?

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