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PH Opinion

PH Opinion


Views and comment from Westminster

John Healey: Each and every one of David Cameron's NHS promises is being broken

Shadow Health Secretary John Healey says that David Cameron has broken all of his NHS promises, and that people are asking whether the Conservatives can be trusted on the NHS.

So David Cameron is set to make his second “I love the NHS” speech in as many weeks today.

He’s a PR man, and a politician. He reads the opinion polls. He sees the trouble the Tories are in with the NHS, after one year of serial mishandling on health.

Public concern about the NHS is the highest for three years, and rising rapidly. Patients are starting to see the NHS go backwards again under the Tories. Professionals in the NHS have no confidence in the Government’s decisions or direction.

People wanted to believe David Cameron when he promised before the Election to “protect the NHS”, guarantee a “real rise in funding” and “stop top-down NHS reorganisations”. But it hasn’t worked because each and every one of his NHS promises is being broken, and people are starting to ask themselves again ‘can we really trust the Tories with our NHS?’

It hasn’t worked because this first year in Government has raised big questions over David Cameron’s own judgement, competence and integrity on the NHS.

The decision to force through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history when it is facing the tightest financial squeeze for 50 years runs huge risks and comes at a high cost. It is profoundly reckless and the wisdom of this judgement has been questioned by the health select committee, public accounts committee, Kings Fund, NHS Confederation and others.

The principles of good Government are consult first, legislate second and implement third. This proper order has been reversed with the NHS reorganisation, leading to the current confusion and chaos in health policy.

The most damaging doubts, however, are raised by David Cameron’s failure to tell people about his NHS plans in the run-up to the Election. Indeed, he made a point of promising NOT to reorganise the NHS and then again emphatically ruled it out in the Coalition Agreement. He wasn’t straight with people before the Election. And he’s not been straight since. The BMA’s first resolution at its first special meeting for 20 years “deplored the government’s use of misleading and inaccurate information to denigrate the NHS”.

Tomorrow he’ll launch his latest newly-minted NHS pledges. The Telegraph tells us the Prime Minister will promise to keep waiting lists low, to maintain spending, not to privatise the NHS, to keep care integrated and to remain committed to the “national” part of the health services.

Will “Cameron’s Five Guarantees” work? Only if he makes more fundamental changes to his NHS plans than speculation so far suggests, because on each and every one of his new promises the Government is at present doing the opposite.

The Prime Minister’s waiting lists and funding pledges are being broken before they’re made.

By scrapping Labour’s waiting time targets, which were patients’ guarantee they’d be seen and treated promptly, the Government has taken the pressure off the NHS. So more than one in ten patients are now waiting over 18 weeks for their operation in hospital and waiting times in casualty have hit a six-year high. Meanwhile on funding, as independent experts like the Nuffield Trust confirm, the NHS in England is facing a real cut of £1 billion this year, not a real rise or even funding to keep up with inflation in the economy.

And while the Prime Minister makes his three other pledges of no privatisation, no fragmentation of care and no break-up of the ‘national’ health service, his health legislation makes provision for exactly these far-reaching changes to the NHS.

The public has seen the Prime Minister make and break promises on the NHS before. If he means what he says tomorrow, and if he means to keep his latest NHS pledges, then he must scrap the health bill as it stands and fundamentally change his NHS plans.

If he won’t, then people will have a right to conclude that they can’t trust the Tories with our NHS.

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