Andrew Lansley – Is He About to be Hung Out to Dry?
Labour have been attacking the government’s NHS reforms.
As the BBC puts it:
Labour said the reforms in England would introduce a “full-blown” market into the NHS and put hospitals at risk.
The Royal College of GPs say the proposals are “unravelling and dismantling” the NHS.
The Liberal Democrats, as ever, are stuck in the middle, vowing to be a “moderating influence” on the Conservatives in the Coalition – whatever that means.
I watched a little of the pointless debate by accident on the BBC News channel.
John Healey, for Labour, bemoaned the fact that under the Conservative proposals, NHS hospitals might actually go bust.
He did not dwell on what might cause an NHS hospital to go bust. That would only happen if it was run so badly that it did not attract any patients, and the patients were all choosing to be treated by rival hospitals. Mr Healey wants to keep open even failing NHS hospitals, because, you see, they are part of the sacred National(ised) Health Service.
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, responded by saying
What matters is the views of NHS staff.
Yes, really he did say that. And by that little phrase, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Lansley laid bare everything that is wrong with the NHS. Here was a Conservative letting slip that what is important to him is not the views or interests of patients, but the views and interests of NHS staff.
There seems to be a wall of misunderstanding over health services. Tony Blair once said “The NHS is not a supermarket, for goodness’ sake!” And yet, without food distribution, we would all starve. Our food distribution network is every bit as essential as our health services – arguably even more so.
People seem to be able to understand that competition in food supply is a good thing. They understand that the interests of food consumers are best served by a free market in food distribution. Nobody, not even Labour, suggests that we should nationalise all Britain’s food shops otherwise some of them might – shock horror – go bust.
And yet, over health care, people come over all misty eyed. That dream of Socialist Utopia that the Labour government of 1945 created seems to be alive and well in people’s attitudes to the NHS.
We ought to be a bit more grown up.
NHS nurses are not “angels”. They are human beings doing a job. They deserve to be properly paid for it, and they deserve to be respected. They need to be managed and they need to be motivated. It is simply not enough to claim that their devotion to public service is enough to motivate them.
And the same goes for doctors, ancillary workers and everyone else working in British health care. They all need the discipline of the market and competition to motivate them to serve patients. Tesco only serves customers well because otherwise the customers go off to Sainsburys – not because its staff have a vision that they are stopping starvation on our streets.
Patients are the ones who matter – or who should matter. Mr Lansley’s NHS reforms go in the right direction. And as Labour seem not to understand, the reason they are right is, ultimately, because under his proposals, NHS hospitals might go bust.
In the 1980s, contracting out of refuse collection was highly controversial. People were shocked at the idea that private companies might make money by collecting our rubbish. Now, privately run refuse collection is commonplace. The ideologically driven debate of those times seems an anachronism. One day, the same will be true of this government’s timid attempts to introduce market disciplines into health care. One day, people will wonder what all the fuss was about.
The government either gets on with these reforms and defies its critics, or it backs down. Sadly, I fear that David Cameron may well end up hanging Mr Lansley out to dry as Mr Cameron runs for cover. After all, he can always blame a climb-down on Nick Clegg.