NHS reform: oh let’s go back to the start

Rather foolishly arriving for the Government’s NHS summit through the front-door, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was on Monday comically accosted by a heckler that sent political geeks of all colours into a fit of ‘The Thick of It’ hysterics. Hilarity aside, the proposed NHS reforms have reached a critical point, and this is far from a laughing matter.

The Government may have sparked controversy by apparently neglecting to invite to the summit those who were well-known critics of the bill, but it appears the groups that were invited to Downing Street nonetheless ensured wide held concerns were raised. Despite the discomfort such, admittedly polite, disagreements may have caused some, the Prime Minister seems unfazed. Leading the charge for the Coalition’s new rhetoric, Cameron said “I support Andrew Lansley and I support the reforms”, argued there “are a few myths we need to bust” and claimed “reform is never easy”. He was followed in a similar vein by senior colleagues on Tuesday morning, and it is clear that at last the Government has a coherent and aggressive strategy to counter the criticism they are facing.

Playing it cool: accosted outside No.10, Andrew Lansley's reforms are under increasing attack

For evidence of just how necessary a new strategy was, one needs only to look at the latest polling on the issue. An ICM survey revealed that 52 per cent of people believed the Health and Social Care Bill should be abandoned compared to just 33 per cent in support of it. Such bullishness from the Prime Minister may be seen as long overdue, but with public support for his party dropping in line with support for the reforms, even some Tory colleagues seem wary of the damage pressing boldly ahead could do to the Conservatives’ electoral chances come 2015.

I’m far from an expert on health policy, but given the plethora of voices railing against the reforms from one angle or another, it seems this may have nothing on the damage that could be done to our National Health Service. With economic confidence hard to come by, anger over the Government’s workfare scheme and their political opponents beginning to show at least base levels of competence, the Conservative Party can nonetheless ill afford for the NHS to remain so high on the political agenda come the next election.

Cameron’s insistence that “reform is never easy” seemed to be indicative of the Government playing it cool amidst fierce criticism. If you will allow me to digress for just a moment, then Coldplay can indeed serve as a useful indicator of how the Government should now act.

As the lyrics go; nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard.

This Government came to office vowing to cut the deficit and deliver substantive reform.  As both promises flounder beneath the reality of policy and the rancour of opposition, Cameron has chosen to plough on regardless. It is time for a rethink on the Health and Social Care Bill. The Conservative Party cannot afford the controversy; the NHS cannot afford the policy.

It may well be true that reform is never easy, but Cameron should not think such consternation is standard practice. As the very same song instructs; oh let’s go back to the start.

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Posted on February 21, 2012, in Coalition Government, Comment, Conservative Party, General, Looking Forward, Party Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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