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For Jeremy Hunt, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

10/03/2016 07:49 GMT | Updated 11/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Whenever I'm out and about meeting patients and staff I ask them "what's the one thing Jeremy Hunt could do to help diffuse the junior doctors' dispute?"

I normally get the same answer - "saying sorry would be a start".

Whether it's an apology for his repeated misuse of statistics, or for implying that junior doctors don't work weekends, or even just for the unnecessary stress he has caused. That one word would go a long way towards repairing some of the damage that has been done over the last few months.

And yet, for Jeremy Hunt, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Yesterday in the Commons I asked the Health Secretary if he feels any responsibility for the fact that 9 in 10 junior doctors are considering leaving the NHS, and that staff morale has hit rock bottom.

He didn't.

I told him that his kamikaze approach to these negotiations will mean that, no matter how this dispute ends, he will have lost the goodwill of staff on which the NHS survives.

He didn't accept that either.

If Jeremy Hunt actually bothered to visit a hospital at the weekend, then he would see that junior doctors are the staff group already working Saturdays and Sundays.

He would see junior doctors regularly working beyond their rostered hours, regularly covering gaps in rotas, and regularly going the extra mile to provide the best care possible to their patients.

In fact if he spent time shadowing a junior doctor, like I have done, then I think it would make him reflect on this whole dispute and wonder why on earth he decided to pick a fight with some of the most dedicated public servants in our country.

So where do we go from here?

If Jeremy Hunt was gambling on the public turning against junior doctors as they embarked upon further industrial action, then yesterday morning's IPSOS Mori poll would have caused him to choke on his granola.

Not only does public support for junior doctors remain as high as it was in January and February but the majority of people (57 per cent) say the government is more at fault for the dispute continuing this long, with only 11 per cent blaming junior doctors.

And it's not hard to understand why.

Junior doctors are some of the brightest, most intelligent people in our country. They know, far better than Jeremy Hunt, the best way to improve patient care and they are saying, in their droves, that imposing this new contract is the wrong way to do it.

The imperative now is to avoid further days of industrial action.

Jeremy Hunt has two weeks before the next planned period of industrial action. That's two weeks for him to find a solution to this dispute that doesn't involve imposing a contract that the vast majority of junior doctors are opposed to.

And while he is at it - an apology wouldn't go amiss too.

Heidi Alexander is the shadow health secretary and Labour MP for Lewisham East