Jeremy Hunt persuaded Theresa May to let him stay as Health Secretary after declaring that “a captain does not abandon his ship”, HuffPost UK has been told.
In an impassioned, personal plea to the Prime Minister during a lengthy meeting to discuss her reshuffle, Hunt cited the public service ethos of his late father, a distinguished Navy admiral.
He declared it would be “dishonourable” to leave his post at a time when NHS staff were facing such a difficult time coping with winter pressures.
May wanted to offer Hunt an expanded post of Business Secretary, with a beefed-up role to help British firms prosper post-Brexit.
But the Health Secretary urged the PM to rethink, pointing out that doctors, nurses, midwives and other health workers were working so hard that he felt duty-bound not to leave the department.
Hunt’s father, Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt, died aged 82 in 2013, after a distinguished record commanding ships at every senior officer rank. He ended his career in the post of Lieutenant of the Admiralty, the personal representative of the Queen in her capacity as Lord High Admiral.
In his tense, hour-long meeting, the Health Secretary said it was “a matter of honour” to him to be allowed to see through the work he had already done in health.
He also made a powerful case for taking more control of social care policy, taking in responsibilities for a reform of the system conducted by the Cabinet Office.
Downing Street announced on Tuesday that the Cabinet Office’s social care unit would now transfer to the Department of Health, which will also take over the much-awaited Green Paper on social care due this summer.
May was so impressed that she agreed that a new title of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should be created and Hunt allowed to stay on.
Hunt – who also rejected plans to replace First Secretary of State Damian Green in a cross-Whitehall backroom role - is now on course to become the longest-serving Health Secretary in history.
He will surpass the tenure of NHS founder Nye Bevan in next month and by June 19 will have outlasted Tory predecessor Norman Fowler, who has the record of being in post for five years and 272 days.
A lack of beds and the threat of flu outbreaks have forced the cancellation of routine operations to avoid chaos in hospital A&E departments.
Both Hunt and the PM have apologised for the cancellations, and Hunt is battling for more long-term funding to match his plans to expand training of extra doctors and nurses.
HuffPost UK revealed on Tuesday that Business Secretary Greg Clark was being lined up by May to replace Hunt as Health Secretary.
Clark was swiftly reappointed to his current post after Hunt persuaded the PM he should not be moved.
No.10 sources refused to comment on the detailed conversation between Hunt and the PM. He certainly “made a passionate case to stay in post”, one said.