Will Ernst Kuipers overturn the corona policy? ‘He doesn’t like bullshit’

If anyone has gotten to know Ernst Kuipers in different roles, it is Rozemarijn van Bruchem-Visser. Kuipers was her supervisor during her PhD research that she completed last month.

She often thought, “Where the hell does that man get the time to guide me? He had about 300,000 files on his plate, but was also interested in my PhD on medical ethics.”

Useful stubborn

If he starts something, he goes for it, is what Van Bruchem wants to say. “He really wanted to take my research further. Not just commenting, but constructively thinking along.”

He’s definitely stubborn too, she thinks. “Usely stubborn. I really think he will become a minister out of a conviction to make things better.”

Friend from the specialist training

Friend Jaap Fogteloo, who has known him well for more than 30 years, was also not surprised that Kuipers became a minister. “He has not spoken to me about it, but he has profiled himself enormously in the corona approach and worked himself in the spotlight.”

The two have known each other since their first part of the specialist training. “We were in our late twenties and worked together in a hospital in Deventer. Working hard, he already loved that. Tradition is our annual dinner with the group from then. Ernst does not want to miss that for anything. He does not necessarily have the highest word, but he does talk very easily and prefers not to talk too much about work.”

That hard work has been instilled in him from an early age. Kuipers grew up in a Protestant family. His father was a general practitioner in a village in Flevoland, his mother ran a pharmacy. “Ernst chose the gastro-intestinal-liver angle. I became an internist,” says Fogteloo.

Kuipers has been chairman of the Board of Directors of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam for the past eight years. Professor and former colleague Pauline Meurs saw how he got a lot of work done. “As director, he built a whole new hospital with new infrastructure. And he mapped out a whole strategy for the hospital.”

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His most important milestone as a doctor? “Introducing the bowel cancer screening programme.”

Salary sharply down

Meurs also understands the switch from her former colleague. “His second term came to an end here. He was at his top and had an amazing career. Ernst would like to contribute to major societal challenges. That is now possible. And it is also a total reset, and exciting.”

He doesn’t do it for the money, says Meurs. “He will definitely decline in salary.”

On Monday, Kuipers was sworn in as Minister of Health. He had yet to become a member of D66, although he already co-wrote the care section of the party’s election manifesto.

Different course?

In the coming period, the eyes will mainly be focused on Kuipers’ corona approach. Is he going to change everything with his ‘white coats’ background?

Colleagues and acquaintances certainly expect him to leave his mark. “Ernst likes to make an impact. If he comes up with something and can do it, it can go quickly,” says Meurs. She calls him vain. “But in the sense that he likes others to see what he’s accomplished. He’s not a boaster.”

Kuipers can place his own accents in the corona policy of the new cabinet, but he certainly does not have free rein. Several ministers and the prime minister determine policy.

The OMT advice will also remain. Under predecessor Hugo de Jonge, this was often the guiding principle for policy, if only to gain the support of the House of Representatives.


Good friend Fogteloo: “Kuipers is a professional and has more knowledge of the content. Nothing to the detriment of De Jonge, but he did not have that expertise. At De Jonge you sometimes saw doubts about the content, which made him adjust things again. Kuipers is more sure of his case because of his knowledge.”

The college friend also expects that he can provide a stronger response to, for example, the Health Council. On the advice of the council, the booster campaign got off to a late start. “If he had wanted to start boosting sooner, Ernst would undoubtedly have convinced the council.”

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Intensivist Diederik Gommers, fellow corona face and colleague of Kuipers at Erasmus MC, also expects a different approach. “Take the OMT advice. That is now sacred and is now being kept secret. I expect Kuipers to explain that more. Dare to make more own decisions, without prejudice to that advice.”

After being sworn in, Kuipers himself said that he wants to look at the approach to the corona crisis from a broader perspective and not just at healthcare. He also wants to consider other aspects, such as economic aspects, in his decisions. In addition to the RIVM model, he also wants to use other models to coordinate the corona policy.

no gossip

Gommers understands that consideration. “In hospitals, we consider life and death every day. Not only care is central here. After all, you have to do the work with the staff you have and that includes choices. All kinds of aspects play a role.”

He describes Kuipers as ‘extremely result-oriented’. “He is always cheerful and very important: he never gossips.” Whether Gommers would not have wanted the job himself? “It’s great to think about big issues, but it also involves a lot of meetings. I’m not into that.”

To care

There are also concerns. Will the former doctor survive the political climate? “He has to start acting in a different environment. The political world is really different from that of a hospital,” says Gommers.

What can go wrong? “In our world it’s easier to come back to something. We work on the basis of progressive insight. You can adjust your plan if you have more knowledge. But in politics you can’t go back so easily, it seems. You get there quickly caught.”

no bullshit

Rozemarijn van Bruchem also wonders how the world in The Hague will turn out. “From my collaboration and as a supervisor, I know how Kuipers likes the numbers and statistics. Your research must be correct, you must not play with the facts. He does not like bullshit.”

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What will it be like in the House of Representatives, where MPs can sometimes criticize like unguided projectiles? Student friend Fogteloo is clear: “He will have no patience for conspiracy theories.”

Little patience

Pauline Meurs, herself a senator, thinks that the political world should not be too complicated. “People are a bit hysterical about the world in The Hague. As if it is something completely different. That is probably not that bad. It is mainly about enjoying that political arena and on which points you do and do not want to give in. That is entrusted to Ernst.”

Meurs sees his great demandingness as a pitfall: “He is demanding for himself, but also for others. That could become difficult.”

PVV’er Fleur Agema – known for her critical corona input – says he has great expectations of Kuipers. The MP has already worn out five ministers of health.

“The corona policy really needs to be completely different. We cannot go from lockdown to lockdown. We can invest that money much better in hospital capacity.”

Doctor doesn’t make minister yet

She knows Kuipers from the technical briefings and describes him as calm and friendly. “I think he should live up to his agreements that he made in his previous role. So he will have to address the shortage of hospital capacity, something he said during a technical briefing. He has to remain credible.”

Agema often disagreed with predecessor Hugo de Jonge. “But he did have enormous file knowledge. With Kuipers I have to see it first, then believe it. A doctor does not make you a minister.”

baptism of fire

Friday is the first big baptism of fire for Kuipers: his first press conference. Kuipers does not necessarily like the spotlight, says study friend Fogteloo.

“But he is not afraid. He often comes across as serious on TV, by the way. In real life he is much more light-hearted.”

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