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A very political Health Policy Today - Tuesday 24th June

Tom Smith on today’s health policy debate.
Today’s health policy coverage is very political and in advance of the NHS 60th anniversary both Labour and Conservative parties are squaring up.  David Cameron today declared that Labour policy had failed.  In an interview with the Daily Mirror Alan Johnson described criticisms as “absolute tosh”.  Interestingly, the media seems unimpressed by this increasingly politicised debate.

David Cameron attacks the process target-culture

David Cameron today gave a speech at the Royal College of Surgeons.  The press is reporting it as a bid to end NHS targets.  BBC online says ‘the Tory leader attacked Labour’s use of targets, saying they had worsened productivity, wasted money and distorted clinical priorities at a time when more and more money had been pumped into the health service’.
The Independent explains that ‘rather than concentrate on waiting times’ a Conservative government ‘will measure how long people live after treatment and their quality of life’.
Although the language used by David Cameron was highly partisan, it is true to say that many of the things he talked about are probably agreed with by health ministers.  Yet the desire on both sides for political pugilism means the parties fight over symbols.   Labour may well respond not by supporting a move from targets, but by defending them thus emphasising the differences between themselves and Conservatives.  They may well defend the 18 week target.  

Reactions to the speech

The BBC noted that ‘the Tory policy comes as the government has already started moving away from waiting targets’.  Niall Dickson agrees: “To be fair to the NHS, it has already recognised that it needs to move on from an exclusive focus on centrally imposed targets towards measuring health outcomes.  John Appleby says, “I think everyone now agrees it is the right time to move away from the traditional targets”.  
The BBC note that ‘from next year the government is looking to measure patient outcomes, starting with analysing how well people recover from a host of elective operations’, a move also very similar to the ideas that Cameron set out today.
While most of the media seemed underwhelmed by the speech, it positively annoyed Janet Daley, writing in the telegraph.  ‘When David Cameron says that he will phase out Labour’s targets and replace them with a focus “on what really matters to people”, what he really means is he will replace them with Tory targets”.  She is frustrated that the Conservatives are essentially offering more of the same.  Worse, in her view, they are trying to block the move towards polyclinics ‘(which might have revolutionised access to primary care in Britain’s cities)’.

Unusually, a Janet Daley column will have been very easy on Alan Johnson’s eye.  He is very keen to challenge ‘producer interest’ and to let everyone know he is doing it.

Alan Johnson tells the Mirror he will complete Nye Bevan’s vision

Alan Johnson tells the Daily Mirror today that the Darzi review “will be the most important development of the NHS in the last 60 years”.   The new health centres it will usher in will be open 8am to 8pm every day of the year, he promised, “Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, every Sunday”.
“I want to show you this”, said the health secretary to the journalist, and held out a leaflet handed out before the launch of the NHS on July 5, 1948.  “Nye Bevan put this out to every house in the country.  It says, ‘special premises known as health centres may later be opened in your district.  Doctors may be accommodated there instead of in their own surgeries but you will still have your own doctor’.  “That never happened”, said Johnson.  “So we are completing Nye Bevan’s vision”.
The interview tries to reassure the core Labour voter (Mirror readers all, apparently) that the NHS is safe in his hands.