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Editor’s blog Monday 17 May 2010: Spending cuts make their way along the John Reid Network, and the next two ministers

Health policy ‘lifers’ will remember reports of ex-Health Secretary Dr John Reid’s advice to his cabinet colleague Tessa Jowell when he quit the role in 2006. Wrongly believing that Jowell was next-in-line for the DH, Reid warned her, “don’t touch health; I’ve spent all the money”.

Reid’s wholly accurate summary found a resonance in the note saying “I’m afraid there’s no money”, left for new Treasury Secretary Lib Dem David Laws by his departing predecessor, Liam ’The Cappuccino Kid’Byrne.

And lo, the books were in a much worse state than expected …
Laws revealed Byrne’s quip during the Treasury press conference. Chancellor ‘Boy’ George Osborne used the occasion to state, “The coalition has agreed that £6bn of savings to non-front line public services should be made this financial year. The departments for health, defence and international development will also make savings but they will be reinvested in their front lines …
“The specific allocations of in-year savings will be announced a week today. These will include significant reductions to the cost of quangos”.

As Andrew Lansley’s careful statement last Thursday on Today revealed, the new Government ”may need to do more” than the proposed £20 billion cuts outlined for the NHS over the next three financial years.

Indeed they “may”. Osborne’s words show that the DH and NHS are not exempt from the £6 billion cuts this financial year, and that the long-trailed bonfire of the quangos is nigh. (Chancellor Osborne’s interview with the FT is here.)

Boy George also told us that the Office of Budgetary Responsibility - a title and concept which somehow bring to mind the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - will produce its first, unofficial forecast before the first Liberal Conservative emergency budget on Tuesday 22 June.

Another remark by Laws bears repeating; “There is simply no point in funding pilot schemes if we cannot afford to deliver them”. Bye-bye, community foundation trust pilots? Farewell, integrated care pilots?

Osborne also stated that the OBR “will also have a role, over the coming months, in exposing all the hidden liabilities and long-term pressures facing us as a country. Looking at the cost of our ageing society, public service pensions, or the cost of outstanding PFI contracts”.

None of this comes as a surprise. The first rule of a new administration is to blame everything on the old administration, ‘kitchen-sinking’ everything out into the open quickly, to get the people used to how bad it is.

Nor is it a big surprise to see the BBC News report that the DH has its eye on £2 billion of unspent money in NHS budgets to create a retraining, redeployment and redundancy fund - sorry, a ‘change’ fund’.

And two more Tory ministers
The ministerial team appears to be completed with the appointment of former nurse and Guildford MP Anne Milton and Frederick Curzon, the 7th Earl Howe, about whom more can be found here. Howe has been Conservative health spokesman in the Lords since the arrival of New Labour back in 1997.

Milton apparently trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, and worked for the NHS for 25 years as a district nurse and for people with terminal cancer. Her husband, Dr Graham Henderson, is Director of Public Health for the East Surrey PCT. She has been a health select committee member 2005-6, and a shadow minister since 2007.

Milton’s political history includes a spell as a union steward for the Royal College of Nursing; perhaps a first for a Conservative health minister.

If Howe’s parliamentary opponents have anything about them, they will set him up to recall the famous badinage between Harold Wilson and Alec Douglas-Home.

Good luck to all the new team. They have got a lot on their plate, with a system that can allow such dreadful mistakes as this.

But it’s not just NHS providers - as you can see here – killing anybody is bad for a hospital, but the son of the BBC medical correspondent is a particularly dim choice. This case wasn’t (but could so easily have been) NHS-commissioned care, thus leaving the SRO with the legal stuff on her or his hands.

The NHS is not there yet with safety and still seems to favour bullying - although it is interesting to see that Andrew Lansley has called for a report from David Nicholson into the goings-on in NHS South West.