Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham’s NHS battle heats up

Two politicians unashamedly and eternally at one another’s throats are Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham, scrapping over who cares more about ‘Our NHS’. Today Hunt has written to Burnham complaining about a story in the Sunday People this weekend that 1,800 nurses have left the NHS in two months. Hunt is accusing Burnham of dodgy figures, writing:

‘As you will know as a former Secretary of State for Health, nursing numbers are subject to seasonal variation, which means there is always a temporary dip in the summer months – including when you were in office. You selected a random time period in order to present the most alarming scenario possible to patients, in the full knowledge that this was a misleading and unrepresentative figure in the light of the overall rise in nursing numbers in the last year and since 2010 overall.’

Hunt then accuses his opposite number of ‘yet another distasteful attempt to scare people’, which echoes David Cameron’s furious attack on Labour in his conference speech where he said ‘how dare they frighten those who are relying on the NHS right now’.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary will no doubt respond: the pair love a prolonged scrap. But Burnham has arguably notched up quite a big victory in the past few weeks, given the Autumn Statement included a £2 billion ‘boost’ for the NHS. It suggests that the government at least wants to prevent attacks from Labour that it doesn’t care about the NHS, even if it doesn’t think that extra money will necessarily solve the problem.

Still, fighting about figures on the NHS is the sort of thing that politicians can do endlessly without much conclusion. It’s more pressing for Hunt to reach a conclusion, though, given the poll lead Labour enjoys on the health service.