Sunday, 4 March 2012

Feeling Sorry for Andrew Lansley

Tuesday 14th February

As the Health bill returns to the Lords it is possible to feel quite sorry for Andrew Lansley. No 10 Staffers are briefing against him, there are admissions that the Listening Exercise was just a PR gimmick, the pages of Conservative Home carry a blog by a Doctor who was a Tory candidate in 2010 which agrees to a remarkable degree with the Socialist Health Association about why it is necessary to drop the bill, and the Times carries an unusually explosive article stating that Lansley should resign or be sacked.

Graphics compare opposition to the bill with its shrinking support. Even some of the strongest supporters of the bill now grasp that it would be impossible to implement it effectively in the face of unified opposition within the Health care professions.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this chaos there remains the serious concerns of how can we make the NHS affordable and how can we cope with the increasing demands of a rapidly aging population. People from across the political spectrum are seeking firm common ground where we can settle on the right way forward. The Stafford story has played an important part in getting us to the current point of conflict. The Francis Inquiry may give us the starting points for unifying opinion.

A rediscovered document from 2007 shows the direction for health policy had already been agreed by Lansley and Cameron. The reason I believe that Andrew Lansley and David Cameron got on the train to Stafford in 2009 is because they saw this as the right platform to sell their proposals for the future of the NHS.

The HCC report with its exclusive focus on Stafford fed the impression that Stafford was unique. The Inquiry and the amazingly detailed evidence about the NHS that it has collected from hundreds of sources very strongly challenges this view. The counsel to the Inquiry Tom Kark has already made one very useful comment. He believes that the assumption made by David Nicholson, the CEO of NHS is that his assumption that Stafford was a one off is “dangerously na├»ve”.

We have also seen on P34 of the same document an interesting last minute amendment from the Health Care Commission that clarifies that its decision to investigate Stafford was only taken in March 2008, after receipt of letters from the Stafford pressure group proved pivotal.

I believe that it is possible that Andrew Lansley accepted a view that Stafford was a one off, something that could be resolved by a healthy dose of competition. This is where the conflict with the health profession lies. The Inquiry, which was actively sought by Lansley, shows us that the problems go far deeper. They are about the huge challenge of the aging population that we have all been refusing to see for decades.

The growing belief within the health system is that these problems can only be resolved by co-operation and by integration with social care, both of which would be made much more difficult by the Health Bill. The fate of Andrew Lansley is perhaps unimportant, the fate of the NHS matters. We cannot afford to get this wrong. As the calls for Lansley to go become louder the Government will be seeking a face saving option. I think that the best advice we can send from Stafford is put the entire matter on hold until after the Francis report, and then launch a national debate on the NHS based on the firm evidence within the Public Inquiry. The government would find that there would be widespread agreement to this course of action.

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