In The Spotlight - An Interview With The Secretary Of State For Health
This week, GDPUK has been fortunate to secure an exclusive and no holds barred interview with the irrepressibly optimistic, but failed Tory leadership candidate and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock.
Here we present the verbatim transcript of my interview with him during a visit to an implant clinic in Marylebone.
DGB: Thank you for taking time out to speak with me Mr Hancock…
MH: It’s a pleasure. Well, we got Brexit done didn’t we?
DGB: Well it’s not COMPLETELY done is it Mr Hanc…
MH: Call me Matt. Boris calls me Matt…among other things…
DGB: Erm, okay. Thanks. Can I ask you about your visit here today? What were you hoping to learn from your visit?
MH: Well, firstly can I say that it was reassuring to see that Brexit hasn’t had any detrimental effects on the smooth functioning of the clinic…
DGB: Did you think Brexit MIGHT have had a negative effect on dental practices already?
MH: Er…no, of course not. Ha Ha Ha. Not yet anyway.
DGB: Not yet? Can you explain what you mean by that…
MH: Can you move on from Brexit? Boris has gotten Brexit done. It’s over.
DGB: Okay. Can you tell us about your visit to the dental practice.?
MH: Yes, certainly. I am deeply interested in learning about all aspects of medical care and I was particularly interested to get to learn more about dentistry and I have to say that I was incredibly impressed by the NHS work done in this fabulous tech-driven implant practice.
DGB: But this practice isn’t NHS. It’s a private practice.
MH: Is it?
DGB: Yes. It’s nigh on impossible to get implant treatment for NHS patients unless they’re in dire straits.
MH: Really? Why is that?
DGB: I assume cost is probably the main reason, but YOU are the Secretary of State for Health! You mean you don’t know?
MH: It’s not that I don’t know. I have a very broad brief and my staff didn’t erm…brief me. I THINK I heard something to that effect, but I’ve been really busy with the leadership contest and then Brexit…
DGB: Yes, I think I see. Can I ask what most impressed you at your visit?
MH: The surgery is so clean! I can’t see the coronavirus getting through the door in this place…the private prices would put it off anyway, LOL. Sorry, can you scrub that last remark out please?
DGB: Does that mean you think high charges deter patients from seeking dental treatment?
MH: Well they may do, but high charges are justified. There are lots of pieces of expensive equipment to buy and maintain, then there are unseen overheads like rates and…stuff. The money has to come from somewhere.
DGB: Conversely, a lot of NHS practices are struggling to survive because of increased outgoings to meet regulatory requirements, but no proportional rise in income. Does the Government have any plans to put more money into NHS dentistry? I ask this because you received criticism last year for endorsing 'affordable' private alternatives to your own West Suffolk constituents, many of whom were unable to access local NHS services.
MH: I must confess I can’t recall making a statement like that.
DGB: Last year at a corporate dental practice.
MH: Doesn’t ring any bells…
DGB: The visit to a corporate practice in Mildenhall? They were offering treatment “almost as cheap as the NHS?” Bells ringing now?
MH: Oh that! I think that is a little unfair. The company was offering cheaper private treatment in an area where there were few NHS practices taking on patients. They were merely filling a need.
DGB: But why weren’t there any NHS dental practices around there to take on health service patients?
MH: Erm…not enough money?
DGB: That and people can’t stand the stress of working under the current NHS contract so practices can’t recruit and keep dentists. Dentists are leaving the profession in droves because they can’t take the pressures and they are working on a treadmill, chasing impossible targets.
MH: In my defence, we got Brexit done AND I came sixth in the leadership race! I’ll try and see if we have anything left in the coffers when we get a trade deal done.
DGB: You were sixth out of a field of seven, but that’s by the by. The BDA has in the recent past accused the Government of treating dentistry as the "Cinderella service" of the NHS. The BDA pointed out the fact that dentistry is mentioned only once in the government's Long Term Plan for the NHS – and dentistry has not received any major investment. What do you say to that?
MH: Hang on, I’ve got a bit of paper here…one sec…here it is. Over 22 million adults were seen by a dentist from 2016 to 2018, and we are working closely with NHS England to improve access to dental services across the country, as well as improving oral health as part of a wider focus on prevention in the NHS's Long-Term Plan.
DGB: With respect, that sounds like a statement from the Department of Health. I wanted to know what YOU think?
MH: I think the NHS provides a tremendous, low-cost service to the voters…erm…er…patients. Dentistry is a very important part of the NHS and we remain committed to it, but if dentists want to leave the service, then that’s up to them.
DGB: Successive governments have always maintained in public that they want to keep dentistry in the NHS, but privately, members of the profession feel that the government wants to remove dentistry by the back door, making running a dental practice more and more an unviable enterprise until owners have no choice but to go private.
MH: Ha…ha ha ha…ha. That’s a quite ridiculous notion. Dentistry is a valued part of the NHS and we have no secret plan to sell off services to Mr Trum… Can you strike that last bit out please? Brexit!
DGB: Last year, the BDA said that only one in six new dental patients in Wales could access an NHS dentist. In Portsmouth, there is a critical shortage of NHS dentists. Do you have any idea how you will tackle this situation.
MH: Well I can’t say anything about Portsmouth. I can’t be expected to keep on top of dental statistics related to individual towns…
DGB: But Portsmouth is a city and YOU were the Minister of State for Portsmouth until 2015. I thought you might have a vague interest.
MH: You would think, wouldn’t you, but nope.
DGB: You seem reluctant to address my questions, so can I change the subject to the sugar tax?
MH: Do you have to?
DGB: A while ago, you were accused by certain parts of the media of ‘burying’ the government’s green paper on the prevention of ill-health. The green paper included proposals for banning the sale of energy drinks to under-16s and extending the sugar tax from soft drinks to other highly sweetened products such as milkshakes. Boris Johnson is thought to oppose extension of the sugar tax, which is why you were thought to have buried the green paper. Will you champion measures which tackle poor diet, particularly with regard to dental health?
MH: As long as Boris is cool with it, of course. Diet is incredibly important in preventing gum disease…
DGB: Dental decay.
MH: Of course. Diet is incredibly important in preventing carriers (sic) and the government will do everything in its power to stop the rot and reduce the number of kids turning into little porkers with bad teeth.
DGB: Can I ask…
MH: Are you nearly finished with me, only I have lots of Brexit stuff to do.
DGB: Dental Protection has told the Government that it needs to focus on reforming UK dental regulation, particularly with regard to improving the GDC’s Fitness to Practice process…
MH: Can I stop you there? GDC?
DGB: Erm…General Dental Council.
MH: Hey! I’ve heard of them.
MH: Look, on that point, all I have to say is that dentists should be doing their jobs properly in the first place. If they did that, they wouldn’t get into trouble would they?
DGB: Have you listened to a word I’ve said?
MH: Is that the time? Brexit waits for no man!
DGB: Erm…thank you Minister, for your time.
MH: Thank you…I didn’t catch your name?
Any resemblance between Matt Hancock and a Secretary of State for Health is purely coincidental.