My tips for Jeremy on what charities bring to the party

Martin Edwards shares the lessons of the party he once threw with Jeremy Hunt

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

I realised I was getting older when two things happened for the first time: an actor younger than me was given the role of James Bond; and a contemporary of mine got into the Cabinet.

I'm talking about Jeremy Hunt, the former culture secretary turned health secretary. I confess to misgivings at the thought that Jeremy now oversees a huge health budget, because for me he is still frozen in time as a fresh-faced student who left me with a financial disaster after a joint birthday party.

It was in 1985 during our first term at Oxford University when, as I was turning 18 and Jeremy was turning 19, we decided to stage a party. We held it in my room because, as I like to remember, I was the more genial host - but in his version of events it was because my room was bigger. All was going swimmingly until some gatecrashers arrived and did some damage, leaving us with a large bill to pay afterwards.

Or rather, leaving me with a large bill to pay. For Jeremy, happy to have shared the limelight when the party was in full swing, was nowhere to be found when there was music to be faced. It wasn't his room, it was no longer his party and, if pressed, he quite possibly hadn't even been there. I remember thinking that this young man would go far in politics.

So I was left with the £125 fine, a hefty sum back then. Yet his sublime charm somehow ensured that I didn't hold it against him: more proof that he would rise far higher than me.

So what would I say to him now, given that I also work in the field of health? I'd say that personal health budgets for patients are a party worth going to: they have far greater potential to produce more tailored care services than all the NHS restructuring instigated by his predecessor.

I'd tell him that if they were organising parties, private healthcare suppliers would squeeze quality in the name of profit, whereas charity sector suppliers would value party quality over profit any day.

I'd tell him that, just as a great party needs a great host, the key to great front-line healthcare teams - and therefore to compassionate care of patients - is great quality at team leader level. But for such team leaders to thrive, senior managers and board members must regularly walk the floor and listen to feedback from staff, patients and relatives alike.

I'd say that whistleblowers need political protection from the highest level, otherwise bosses can pretend that the party is going well when it's actually dangerously out of control.

I'd say that although it let a few gatecrashers spoil the party with poor care, the care quality regulator is improving through a sharper focus on the patient's experience of care.

Lastly, I'd tell Jeremy to pay his share of our fine, because great politicians are those who manage the rare trick of changing lives for the better while also paying down the debt of those who enjoyed a carefree past.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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