Saving money or saving the NHS?

David Cameron was accused of “playing a dangerous game of divide and rule” by only inviting royal medical colleges and health practitioners that he believes will back his NHS reorganisation to a special summit at Downing Street on Monday. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary has claimed doctors groups have had the door “shut in their faces”.

The political points scoring may have shrouded the debate over Andrew Lansley’s NHS reform bill with additional pressure emerging from alleged calls for the Health Secretary to ‘be taken out and shot’ from voices within Number 10. The Leader of the Opposition Ed Milliband, not content to sit on the sideline, sought to capitalise on the situation declaring ‘we have three months to save the NHS’. Such scare-mongering might feed the appetite of editors seeking headlines for front pages and in the process slightly improve the Labour leaders dwindling ratings in the public opinion polls, but it detracts from the real unanswered questions. Is this bill the cure doctors have prescribed? Sadly for the P.M the answer is a resounding ‘No’. With eighteen professional health bodies coming out against the Lansley’s reforms, notably the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal College of GP’s and the Royal College of Nurses.

With such an army against the reform, it can only be an uphill battle from here, but the Government’s obstacles vary in shape and size. Not only do they face opposition from the medical professionals whose concern is for large part, believing that the NHS couldn’t cope with an organisational change alongside £20 billion worth of efficiency savings, other arguments range from believing the bill will lead to increased inequalities in health. This is bound to stir up the public in the current thirst for ‘fairness’. If you are a business owner then you should be keeping a close eye on this reform as it could cause the quality of the NHS services for your employees could decrease. If you value your employees then you may want to get private health insurance for your employees to keep them happy and healthy.

In Lansley’s favour, he did begin to formulate his master plan for the NHS six years before he became health secretary. Well before austerity. Having to enact it when there is pressure on government spending; according to some strategist has lead to a fatal confusion in the public’s mind. Is he trying to save money or save the NHS? The P.M has tried to put this question to rest with statements like ‘We are taking out £4.5 billion of bureaucracy that would be ploughed into patient care.’ It hasn’t been enough to assure the public, however.

To make matters worse for Lansley, risk assessments drawn up by the four English health regions warn that there is a high risk of the proposed reforms reducing safety and patient care and causing overspending. The internal reports warn of a high risk that the improvements in management and reduced costs that the reforms are supposed to achieve may not come about.

Labour’s argument, however, is rather feeble: ‘They are trying to privatise the health service’ is a plea we hear often from the opposition, but the wheels for this were set in motion by the last Labour Government. Introducing competition, collaborating with the private sector are all Blairite policies. Their opposition to this bill seems a lot more politically opportunistic than anything else.

The decision for David Cameron appears relatively simple. Is the political prolongation of a minister and his life’s work, whose fate is already sealed in abating public opinion, worth losing credibility on the Health Service all together? An even better question is how long Tory backbenchers will allow this debacle to continue before anonymous calls for Lansley to ‘be taken out and shot’ begin to gain signatories.

As the complexity and opposition to this bill has grown, the politics has become quite simple. It boils down to this, who do the public trust with the health service? At the moment neither party is yet to fully convince the public. But unless the Government act soon, the bill that has been branded ‘dead in the water’ by many might be the impetus needed for the Labour party to arise from what has been their political death since there defeat at the last election and outline their plans for the NHS, because if the parties agree on one thing, it is that the NHS can’t continue to run in its current form.

Taofiq Akinpeju

Further Reading

Health and Social Care Bill – The main points


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