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Health warning

Nick Robinson | 16:46 UK time, Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Safe in his hands... that's what David Cameron wants people to think when they ponder whether to put him in charge of the NHS. Ever since Margaret Thatcher first used that phrase the Tories have struggled to fend off Labour accusations that secretly they yearn to break up the health service.

But today's speech marks more than mere political re-positioning. It represents a significant moment in the debate about healthcare in the UK. Many Tories - backed by not a few health experts - believe that taxes alone cannot fund the healthcare we need or indeed want, and they believe the UK will one day have to move to an insurance-based system like much of the rest of the world.

By declaring that will NEVER happen whilst he's leader, David Cameron has ruled out even debating the subject. Is it an embarrassing U-turn? Labour says so but of course that's the charge they also face as they now privatise parts of the NHS with abandon.

Proof that the politicians are learning what the NHS need and the public want? Or as one cynic put it to me - it's a story of the NHS for slow learners.


  • 1.
  • At 05:11 PM on 04 Jan 2006,
  • Peter D Smith wrote:

I still have grave doubts about “where is the camera” DC; his new NHS policy, did I say policy? must be the product of a consultancy or an advisor. My greatest fear in such a proposed regime of autonomy, will produce a two tier NHS, both free at the point of use; one available in the suburbs and one in the housing schemes. Post Code NHS

  • 2.
  • At 07:14 PM on 04 Jan 2006,
  • Josh Owens wrote:

Mr. Cameron is obviously trying to force Conservative and Labour policies to converge on a sensible centre ground. This is a prudent policy move by him, as it neutralises the NHS as a ground for debate, meaning that the Tories can now concentrate on attacking the Government's record in other areas. Mr. Cameron appears to want to keep on the offensive.

The issue of the NHS and/or health insurance is a Pandora's Box of a question.

Having grown up with the NHS, I was a big supporter of State-run health care for all, and quite openly critical of the health insurance system of the US when I moved here.

However, I've been slowly converted to the fact that with insurance here in the States, I receive a much higher level of health care and it's pretty much instantaneous. The monthly health insurance payments are low enough that I don't often notice them - much like any tax. All very well for lucky me, but at least 20% of this country (60 million people) doesn't have any health insurance. I'm not sure which is the greater evil!

It's quite telling that the press coverage of this announcement consisted of dismay from the Telegraph and Murdoch press - who want a choice, not an echo, and an enthusiastic welcome from Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, who loves this acceptance of the big spending status quo.

Labour has spent more on the NHS, but this hasn't resulted in commensurate improvements in the services, just public sector inflation of 75%. All Labour, and now Cameron offer, are more supply side reforms. That's not enough.

This move by Cameron hasn't opened up debate on reforming the NHS, it's shut that debate down and denied the electorate any real choice on the issue.

  • 5.
  • At 10:40 AM on 05 Jan 2006,
  • Dafydd wrote:

I was interested that Mr. Cameron said the NHS would remain free "at the point of need."

He did not say free "at the point of delivery."

This may be an inconsequential difference, but I thought he was leaving the door open to making the free NHS an A&E only service.

Perhaps I am too cynical.

  • 6.
  • At 01:59 PM on 05 Jan 2006,
  • Simon Christopher-Chambers wrote:

Is this Cameron's cattempt at a Tory 'clause 4'.

Despite the continued honeymoon of publicity that Mr Cameron has enjoyed since his election many in and around the political arena have said that he needed something big that would completely break him free from old conservative dogma.

Perhaps this was it. Alas, the relative cool reception it has received from the media and public alike does not lend itself to any claims that it has succeeded as much as Mr Blair's dumping of Clause 4 did for new Labour.

  • 7.
  • At 02:16 PM on 05 Jan 2006,
  • Martin wrote:

I think the whole debate around the NHS should centre on the management or lack of and the money that is wasted on flash boardrooms and high salaries. The workers at the bottom end are just as scarce as before and there are huge numbers working here from abroad (especially in the nursing staff) - so where is all that extra money labour is providing going?

Jack McConnell has reminded DC that the Scottish Executive is responsible for the NHS because it is a devolved power, and to keep his nose out! So what happens if the Tories win the next UK general election, but there is a New Labour/ Lib Dem coaltion in Holyrood?
Tory policies in England, Labour in Scotland.
Fireworks me thinks!

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