Has Cameron cocked up on the NHS?
Earlier this week David Cameron promised a 'bare knuckle fight' over the NHS as part of a campaign highlighting plans for 29 district hospitals to downgrade or close either their A&E or their maternity units.
Almost immediately the media were reporting (after frantic briefing by Labour spin doctors) that several hospitals on the list were denying any plans to close and in one case a Conservative MP was said to have apologised to his hospital for being 'wrongly' included on the list; which the media took as proof that the list was indeed incorrect.
In fact the MP for Kings Lynn Henry Bellingham later said he apologised because staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital had felt "singled out" by being on the list when there were three other maternity units at hospitals in his constituency which were also considered under threat- but this 'minor' detail went largely unreported.
Closer inspection of the denials was also to reveal that many were selective, hospitals discussing or planning to close A&E put statements out denying categorically any plans to close their maternity unit; and vice versa.
So was this a 'cock up' by Camerons people or not?
I am certain we won’t have an election for at least a couple of years yet. Cameron always has been playing a tactical long game and I am very glad that he still is.
The facts are that every hospital on his list (and many more besides) really are undergoing either consultations, or in the later planning stages of changes that will reduce neighbourhood services for residents by closing or amalgamating maternity units, A&E units or both.
There will be a drip-drip of news stories over the next few months and years as each of these trusts tries unsuccessfully to bury the bad news and fails, eventually having to admit their plans. And Cameron will be able to say ‘we told you so’; ‘we warned about this’ ‘we were right all along’,'You can’t believe this Prime Minister any more than the last one’ etc. etc.
Hell hath no fury like a news reporter misled, so if Cameron and Lansley are right, the angry press backlash against Labour could come at a very critical moment, i.e. in the lead-up to an election.
It would have been a far better strategy - especially for ‘new’ New Labour to have said ‘this is all about repositioning services, and yes, several district hospitals will have services shuffled about between them; but when you running anything as big and complex as the NHS difficult decisions have to be made…..?
Whatever happened to the mature and spin-free Government we were promised by Mr Brown just two months ago?