Lord Philip Hunt

Lord Philip Hunt, Shadow Deputy Leader of House of Lords, and former Trust Chair 

So here we are again at one of Roy Lilley’s Health Chats.  As you can see from below, I managed to get Lord Hunt to accept one of my books, and to pose with it!

Lord Hunt, Roy Liley & a cook Book

Philip Hunt and Roy Lilley admire my book!

Why was he being there at The Kings Fund?  Apart from the above, he is also Shadow Health Spokesman.  That’s good enough for me…

I had half hoped that Roy Lilley’s avuncular yet barbed style might have morphed into a Paxmanesque routine. How many times would he ask “So, what is Labour’s Health Policy?”

Was I disappointed? Only slightly. Three times was enough.. but it is amazing how you don’t need to be barbed to get some deep insights, and the occasional, “Did I hear that right?” moments.  As always – a health warning here – these are my own views and opinions of the event, and if you were there, you may interpret differently.

NHS Managers.net - and Lord Hunt

Calm before the questions!

He’s been around a bit. Baron Kingsheath (a bit of OK Birmingham), was on a sit-in with Jack Straw as Students Union President back in 1968. It seemed important at the time. Then on to an Iron ore mine in Australia (but as a dish washer in the surface canteen). Been there at a lot of the changes (and there have been a lot) in the NHS.

What always impresses me with the folk who get there – really at the top of their profession, pulling the levers and making things happen, is their sensitivity and ordinariness. But then you get the twinkling intellect – the memory for names, places and what happened – and the absolute passion.  Philip added a dry sense of humour and self deprecation to this mix.

It was the names and anecdotes that hit home for me.  Frank Dobson (so good that Blair sidelined him into standing for London Mayor) – was so different as Health Secretary.  He praised people (heaven forfend…).  He made the service make waiting times come down to a position where it wasn’t worth having private medical cover.  Astonishing. Now they are increasing exponentially.  I wonder if the government has any contact with private health care providers?  Sorry, becoming a bit cynical…

Some other powerful quotes: “…Enforced marketisation”.  I loved that.  And any organisation that has had Activity Based Accounting, or ever cross charged to another part of their organisation will know all it does is cost bureaucratic money.

“Why is the NHS supine in the face of the ludicrous things it is asked to do?”   What a great question.  I suppose there is no leader, no head, no General to turn to, to complain.  Maybe the Trusts and the GPs and the Junior Doctors (such a dismissive nomenclature), should start saying NO?  Maybe just to ask for forgiveness if they screw up, rather than forelock tugging begging for permission to do what they know is right?  “There are a litany of new demands placed on them which are very removed from reality”.  Amen.  Start handing stress back to the rightful owner, you local leaders…and let the central guys sweat.  Or just work with The Vanguards, and cut all the others out.  Maybe only pay for your CQC inspection if you firstly concur, and secondly that their suggestions for improvement actually work.  (What do you mean they don’t make suggestions?  Why pay then?  You wouldn’t pay an external consultant unless their report gave you suggestions?) (That bit was just me ranting, like Roy does occasionally (!) about the CQC and others…)

Lord Hunt was slightly more circumspectly political when the Junior Doctors strike ballot surfaced. No real advice to the other Hunt, but I think there was a glimmer of sparkle in his eyes which I read as ‘serves you right for being so negative and condescending’.  I may be wrong….

Devo-Manc was discussed as a good idea, but will the money really follow? (and if everything is devolved, and we stay in Europe – will we really need 650 in The Commons, and the 850+ of their Lordships?).  Contentiously, the prospect of Social Care being means tested did surface too.  I got the feeling Philip thought it inevitable – and it is happening by stealth anyway.  The Dilnot suggestion for limiting the amount you spent on your Social Care was in the Conservative manifesto, but conveniently dropped once they got in against their own odds…

I have a simpler suggestion.  Means Test all social care, and let the local authorities do that.  But if your mum is in a Nursing Home – as they used to be called – then that should still be NHS funded.  How do we decide it is nursing care?  Simple.  If the ward or home has to be locked, because your mum may walk out and harm herself, then that is Nursing, and should be NHS funded.

Lord Hunt quietly talked of the madness of allowing GPs to look after £80Bn of funds when they look after the governance of it themselves.  No public involved.  No real accountability.  He just quietly dropped that in, as is his style.  If you weren’t there you missed the musings and war stories of a fine man.  I just wish he wasn’t Shadow.


Definitely one of the top soft skills, in my view.  Think about this as one of the central themes for ‘trust’.  In training terms we often call this ‘active listening’.  In simpler terms, we, as empathetic humans, always know when someone isn’t listening to us with all their head and heart.  I run a fun little exercise on courses to prove this.  Someone is set as the active speaker – and is told to prepare by thinking about their last holiday or what they did last weekend – because they will be talking about it for two minutes soon.  Then I take the listeners and brief them to be attentive for the first 30 seconds, start feigning lack of interest for the next 30 secs, then lose interest completely after 1 minute, but come back after 90 seconds – to try to repair the relationship!

It is always fascinating.  Some speakers just stop trying to speak.  Some get angry and say things like – Hey – I’m obviously boring you – just listen up will you?!”


I think she is listening?

I think she is listening?

And these are people at a workshop who know I have set something up…but they can’t help themselves reacting big-time!

The listeners find it very uncomfortable too.  It feels unnatural to be that impolite…

BUT – we all will do it today at some point.  Not quite being there.  Not being fully engaged.  Thinking about our response before we even have allowed the speaker a bit of their own space.  We will interrupt.  We will drift off into thinking about that report we have to write, or that meeting we need to be at.

And – do you know – it will always cost us more time to fix the conversation or even the relationship than if we had just been there, fully, in the moment and listened.  That’s the way trusting relationships are built.

Trust revisited

I said this might be a recurring theme – trust does seem a pretty core theme for much that is good and bad about soft skills in hard times.

Let me tell you a Christmas time story.  We were off on a short break to Devon, and had taken our small TV with us, but no remote control. Like most modern TVs, you need to tune it in if moved to a different area like when you first set things up.  This is impossible to do without the control.

We called in at John Lewis on the way, and visited the madly busy small electrical section, waiting in a queue for a technical adviser.  She suggested that they may have an extra one in their stash of remotes – but there wan’t our type in that box.  Second, she advised us to look at the generic ‘all in one’ packages, but to open them, and check for compatibility   We did, and amazingly our British assembled TV (Made by Lansar) had incompatibility problems with all makes.  We asked for more advice, after the assistant (and a very appropriate description of her that word is) was returning from the depths of the warehouse where she had been to look for a possible replacement.

“I’ve got another idea”, she said.  “I will take this remote from a returned TV in the sale, and you can borrow it for your holiday – we wouldn’t want you to be without it!”  We remonstrated but she insisted. She took no details from us at all!  We asked for her name and the address so we could post it back after the holiday, which we did with a note of thanks, of course.

We felt more obliged to send it back at the earliest opportunity because of the amount of trust she had shown.

I wonder if that’s a lesson we can all take into our organisations?

I know John Lewis has the philosophy of empowerment and all of the staff are Partners in the business.   But doesn’t this story just show how living the creed means you practice it too.  Is it any wonder they are so successful?

Here’s a photo that shows this sort of trust on a different scale.

This was hanging on the car park gate of a Defence establishment I visited last year.   No-one steals it.  Anyone can use it.

It’s all about trust.  We need to have more of it

De-icer - nice!

De-icer – nice!