• Mr Hunt is longest serving senior health minister
  • Admits he made mistake in handling of junior doctors’ dispute
  • Election of committee chair to take place on 29 January

Jeremy Hunt has told HSJ he will be “completely honest” about the mistakes he made as health secretary if successful in his bid to become the next Commons health committee chair.

Asked whether his chairmanship would be undermined by his involvement in many of the decisions and policies the committee would examine, Mr Hunt — who was secretary of state from 2012 to 2018 — said it would not for two reasons.

He said: “Where I made mistakes [affecting the issues being examined] I will be completely honest about them.” He added he, for example, now acknowledged he had made mistakes in handling the junior doctors dispute.

Mr Hunt — who is the UK’s longest serving senior health minister — also claimed the nature of the health debate was now distinctly different from his period in the office, during which “most of the time, we didn’t have enough money”.

Last year’s spending settlement had changed the focus of the debate, he said. “Now it’s about how we use that money.”

During his time as health secretary, Mr Hunt championed the cause of patient safety and, in October last year, HSJ revealed he was setting up a charity to carry on his work in this area.

Asked whether he was worried the issue had slid down the government agenda and if he wanted to become the committee chair to remedy this, he said: “I do want more focus on the quality and, particularly, the patient safety agendas.” It was important the issue was given as much attention as increasing access, he said.

While Mr Hunt claimed the NHS was now “safer” than in the past, he added he was “sure there are other Mid Staffs’ and Shrewsbury and Telford’s out there”.

The South West Surrey MP said his two other priorities would be mental health and social care.

He said the NHS should be a “world leader” in mental health but had yet to seize the opportunity.

He described social care reform as “unfinished business” from his time as health secretary, revealing he had wanted to produce a 10-year long-term plan for social care to match the one produced for the NHS. However, Mr Hunt said this was “blocked” by the then chancellor, Phillip Hammond.

The Commons health committee chair must be a Conservative MP, under current Parliamentary arrangements, although they are selected by a vote of all sitting MPs. The election will take place on 29 January. Two other candidates are standing — former health minister and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Dan Poulter, who is a medical consultant, and MP for Newton Abbott, Anne Marie Morris.

The previous committee chair, Sarah Wollaston, lost her seat in last year’s general election, having defected to the Independent Group/Change UK in February last year, then later joined the Liberal Democrats. She was preceded by another former health secretary, Stephen Dorrell.