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Change of plan

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Laura Kuenssberg | 14:40 UK time, Tuesday, 21 August 2007

David Cameron was seeking to show he was back in charge, and back on top of the agenda by highlighting what he said was the threat to 29 District General Hospitals in England. Certainly, the NHS is reorganising lots of their services and thousands of people around the country are involved in campaigns to try to make sure that departments don't disappear from their local hospitals. There is public anxiety out there as I saw in Worthing yesterday where the health authority is consulting on plans that include the possible downgrading or transfer of some departments.

David CameronBut as I wrote yesterday, the party presented varying amounts of proof for each individual site on how certain any closures were. Some are just at the consultation stage, some possible proposals leaked by e-mails. Few seemed set in stone.

In the last two hours, one of David Cameron's own MPs has expressed his unhappiness at how the party used the information. Henry Bellingham, Norfolk North West MP has apologised unreservedly to worried staff and patients at his local hospital, the Queen Elizabeth in King's Lynn, for the fact that the party claimed maternity services there were at risk when he says they are not.

He says the party should have contacted the hospital's chief executive before putting the information out and that "there are lessons to be learnt for opposition parties and governments" about making such claims.

It's also emerged that the Altrincham General, where the party's dossier claimed maternity and A&E were at risk, has neither a maternity unit, nor an A&E, but a minor injuries unit.

The party has just admitted that they made a mistake on that one, and meant to refer to Trafford Hospital. It's not yet clear what the situation is there. But they are standing by their other claims, including the hospital in King's Lyn where they say a consultation that could include the closure of units is still going on.

David Cameron himself has just told the BBC that he stands by the document, apart from that mistake. He says every one of the other hospitals mentioned is under some form of consultation or threat of losing departments. He says also there are probably other places that the party could have included, and he wants the government to clarify what will happen to them. The problem with that is that while of course, the Department of Health centrally will be involved in these decisions, they are supposed to be decisions that are made locally, not by central government.

Now clearly there are big reorganisations going on in the health service. And that potentially includes the closure or downgrading of maternity and A&E units in district generals around the country. Naturally that would be a big concern to patients and staff in that area, and a political headache for the local MP. But any party making claims that are then directly disputed, especially by one of their own MPs, is on shaky ground.

Yesterday was meant to be David Cameron's comeback. As party leader he has devoted a lot of time and effort to the health service and no doubt there is a lot of political mileage in any potential closure. It's known in Westminster as a seat-loser for constituency MPs if a hospital shuts on their watch. But run a campaign like this with inaccurate information and any politician is asking for trouble. Mr Cameron is out visiting more district hospitals this afternoon. I wonder if he now wishes he was somewhere else.


  • 1.
  • At 03:48 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Albert wrote:

Hi Laura,
Did you listen to the news about cancer treatment in the Northern countries like, Sweden, Norway, and some other countries in Europe like France.

If we want Britain to be on par with these countries, and that's where cancer treatment is concerned, we need to invest more in new technology and EDUCATING people. How can one spend more and more billions, yes billions, to better the NHS when we have a party in opposition proposing for us to be more OPPORTUNISTIC, GREEDY and SELFISH?

The countries that are ahead of the U.K. in health care have a much higher percentage of tax then the U.K. Therefore if anything we should concentrate on the quality rather then the quantity.

Yes, their % is about 10% to 15% more tax of their GDP when compared to the one in U.K.

I presume that Redwood would argue that all these countries could do far better if they reduced their taxes!

Why do we always have to be correct and that all the rest of Europe are wrong? Why? Have a nice day Laura.

  • 2.
  • At 03:58 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

Oops - another mistake and a lapse in presentation. Does this mean that Labour and the media pack will turn on the messenger or will they focus upon the message. Based on previous experience, I suspect the media will ignore the issue and instead attack David Cameron.

In the meantime, we are expected to believe everything the BBC says, despite the fact that they cannot be trusted to run any competitions involving members of the public, nor can we trust their judgement to report stories in an even handed way (I would refer you to Ms Boaden if unsure about this last comment). Indeed, I begin to wonder quite how the BBC dares to report on political matters given their own track record.

Kettle - Pot - Black. Please make use of these words to find a well known phrase or saying.

  • 3.
  • At 04:05 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Cocteau8 wrote:

In efforts to gain improvements in the opinion polls Cameron has picked on what he sees as populist ground with health service cutbacks, but as with grammar schools his haste to achieve the positive soundbite for the Tories has left a decent bit of egg landing nicely on his face. And to add another metaphor he seems to be ensuring that the goal is getting wider and wider for a gleeful Brown to gently, and comfortably tap the General Election ball in! BAck to the drawing board, methinks!

  • 4.
  • At 04:19 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

I am involved in a campaign to keep our local hospital. It is disingenuous in the extreme to believe the NHS trusts when they say 'a consultation is in progress'. It may be true, but that only tells part of the story - we were not consulted when our hospital was closed (only our campaign and the threat of legal action got it re-opened), in fact not even our local MP has a say.

David Cameron's list may have a mistake in it, but the overall thrust of it is *very* important to those of us in rural areas. In my own case, the closure of our local hospital would have resulted in an hour's trip each way - for any hospital appointment.

The irony of all this is that the trust's themselves are not to be trusted.

  • 5.
  • At 04:21 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Robert Murray wrote:

What is the phrase about a desperate man? Mr cameron must get his facts right before going out to try to impress people with his ill founded ideas.
It seems to me that he's on his way to loosing the next election without any help from the Labour government.

  • 6.
  • At 04:26 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Matthew Knowles wrote:

Someone getting a P45 in the Tory research department methinks...

  • 7.
  • At 04:28 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Julian Williams wrote:

You have to get your facts right when you are making political points - any errors will negate the message and what is left is the image of a party that does not know what it is talking about - I know the point that the Conservatives are making is a good one but they have lost the argument due to a lack of attention to detail - NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

  • 8.
  • At 04:28 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Dan wrote:

Ok it sounds like shroud waving for shroud wavings sake and no attempt to understand the complicated issues behind it.

Working Time Directive for medical staff means you need more medical staff just to maintain one on site 24/7. The medical staff are now more expensive. The Royal Colleges have decreed that for staff in training (and these can be 30 year old moderatly experienced doctors) they need to see a minimum number of patients per year or the site can not be registered as a training unit, so you then need to hire staff who are not being activly trained and to the Doctors will be seen as a dead end job, or you hire fully qualified consultants for what they will see as a boring basic role.

combine all 3 issues and status quo is a VERY expensive option, and in some cases is a worse option clinically.

Oxford for many years had an AE and Cardiac unit at one hospital and a Neurosurgery unit at another hospital, with the disadvantage that if you had both head and chest injuries in a car crash you wanted to be in 2 places at once, one hospital has now closed and all services are in a new larger dedicated hospital with both services in the same place. Yes a hospital closed but it was a building from the 18th centuary and has been replaced by a larger one from the 21st.

Will cameron sign up to provide enough dedicated medical staff to provide gold standard servce in every existing unit anywhere in England??

  • 9.
  • At 04:33 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Oliver wrote:

Ho hum -- more Cameron can do no right, Brown no wrong from the BBC!

  • 10.
  • At 04:35 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Bill Rees wrote:

Ask yourself the question"Does Cameron ever get it right" the answer is no.Unfortunately he thinks nothing thru,he relies on PR Stunts like visiting hospitals making statements that dont stand up hoping to make short term political capital.I wonder if he ever did his homework when he was at Eton, he definately does not bother to do it now.

  • 11.
  • At 04:39 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • jrb wrote:

It is very unfortunate that Cameron remains in charge of a party that has access to great minds and genuinely charismatic MP’s that could do a better job in taking this party forward. The sooner the conservatives get rid of Cameron the sooner they can start to build a credible opposition and perhaps have a chance at winning the next general election.

  • 12.
  • At 05:04 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Robert Irons wrote:

Only the other day David Cameron was blaming the breakdown of family life for yobbish behaviour. Now he wants a bare-knuckle fight with Gordon Brown.
What must his parents think ?

  • 13.
  • At 05:05 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Ray B wrote:

I suppose it might reasonably be argued that David Cameron is doing his job, alerting the electorate to the threat of possible hospital closures. After all, it seems like only yesterday - although it was in fact last December - that BBC News Online was reporting Labour Cabinet minister Hazel Blears' protest over her own government's plans to close part of a hospital in her constituency. Ms Blears was not alone as, again reported by BBC News Online, almost 40,000 people joined a campaign signing petitions to save wards at Hope, Fairfield Hospital in Bury and at Trafford and Rochdale.

It appears that when Mr Cameron draws attention to possible NHS cuts he is considered to be on shaky ground, but when Ms Blears protests over possible closures she is portrayed as bravely putting forward the views of her constituents.

  • 14.
  • At 05:29 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Votedave wrote:

This is so typical of the liberal left media.
Never mind everything else David Cameron has done over the past two days - focus everything onto trivia like this.

  • 15.
  • At 05:40 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • David wrote:

'It's also emerged that the Altrincham General, where the party's dossier claimed maternity and A&E were at risk, has neither a maternity unit, nor an A&E, but a minor injuries unit.'


you mean someone phoned them?

This sounds like Davy Cam's Dodgy Dossier...

  • 16.
  • At 06:02 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Jon Rowles wrote:

The Government is trying to cut scores of A&E departments at stealth so its hardly surprising that the Opposition has had problems drawing up a difinative list.

As for the Angry Cheif Executives - who appointed them and who can get them sacked? Yes, the Health Secretary. No wonder that they do New Labours bidding!

  • 17.
  • At 06:20 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

What do they have in common?
Poor briefing.
Poor judgement.
Scaremongering skills.
Credibility? Alas, it is the lack of same (and the lack of shame) which they share.
The NHS is staffed by dedicated staff who have been intimidated by senior politicians and kicked around as politicial footballs harder and more frequently recently than ever before. If only Cameron could hear himself. Bare knuckle fight over closure of departments that don't exist? Oh really!
I suggest that anyone promoting scaremongering using the NHS as a football for party policy should be deselected by their party.
Support health care, don't kick it to death. Who knows, one day your life may depend on it?

  • 18.
  • At 06:22 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Another spectacular example of shooting himself and the party in the foot again. The one mistake in the list will now cast doubt on the rest.

Lots of finger pointing David, but where are the solutions?

Am I alone in not knowing what the Tories stand for anymore?

  • 19.
  • At 06:39 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Effie wrote:

This really is serious for a leader of any party to be so drastically wrong and I think the Conservatives have got to have a serious debate on the way they are being led or more to the point being misled. There seems to be no cohesion what-so-ever from within the party, especially since
Tory MP Henry Bellingham has found himself having to apologise unreservedly to staff at his local hospital in King's Lynn, which he said had been wrongly included on the list David Cameron had drawn up. It appears that one hand does not know what the other hand is doing.
Cameron does not even take the trouble to consult his local MP before he jumps in with both feet.
Quite a lot of the Trusts have criticised David Cameron and said he had made several mistakes in his assessments. This is poor, sloppy research.
The North Bristol NHS Trust - which covers Frenchay and Southmead hospitals - said Conservative claims that A&E services at Frenchay were under threat are absolute rubbish. A&E unit at Frenchay is to be closed and a new one built at Southmead Hospital five miles away, where there is only a minor injury unit at the moment.
Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, which is responsible for Horton hospital in Banbury, said there is no threat to its A&E unit.
Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust said there was
no threat to the accident and emergency department or the maternity unit at City Hospital in Birmingham.
The Shrewsbury & Telford Hospital NHS Trust, there is no threat to maternity services at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.
Other NHS trusts have also contradicted the Conservative leader's claims. Whilst another hospital on the Tory list does not even have a maternity or A&E facility.

These mistakes take some digesting especially coming from a man who is seeking to become PM of this Country, he ought to have known better and checked his facts.
If this is what he means by being back on top and back in charge of the Conservative agenda, Gordon Brown is home and dry.
Cameron is coming out of this as a laughing stock. I just though he was a political lightweight, now I realise if he had a brain, he would be dangerous.

  • 20.
  • At 06:56 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Dave L wrote:

Any party making claims that are then disputed is on shaky ground, says Laura. Good to know that she would fully agree, then, that Labour is on very shaky ground with their disputed claims that there are "24 hours to save the NHS" (No... 10 years to wreck it); that they will be "Tough on Crime" (No... 10 years of support for the 'yuman rites' of the common criminal); and they will make their top priority "Education, Education, Education" (No again... 10 years of social engineering and dumbing down). Get a grip and give a fair hearing to the only hope we have for saving what is left of this country.

  • 21.
  • At 07:08 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Libby wrote:

I am also involved in the campaign to prevent the downgrading of our local A&E and maternity units in Mid Sussex. Services would be relocated to Brighton. I can understand the rationale of the example some one has given in central Oxford - of course you don't need two big centres in one city, but in a number of cases the changes are proposed in rural areas meaning people will have to travel significant distances,and in the case of trying to get to Brighton, through diabolical traffic, lengthening travel time, and increasing the risk of complications and even death. Can you seriously tell me that one person working on a patient in the back of an ambulance on a journey of 40 minutes is better than a team of people working on someone in a local A&E department and that they won't get a better result? Where are all of these super new paramedics going to come from and how much will all of that cost? What level will they be trained to? How far away from the area of need will they be based?

  • 22.
  • At 09:20 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

Just read the arguement ref higher taxes = better health care abroad..

Well, as someone who lives in Norway I can assure the writer that the Income taxes when all worked out are LESS than they are in the UK.

The structure of the 50% top rate is not as it first appears. 1st we pay an amount (equivalent to 10% of our salary) that is paid back to us in the month of July by the govt for holiday pay - we do not recieve a company salary that month. During the month of Dec we get taxed at just 50% of the normal aggregate tax. And finally there is no national insurance. I believe that there is a similar structure in Sweden (although I am not sure).

We do have a VAT rate of 24% and alcohol tax and tobacco tax make this country perhaps the most expensive place to smoke and drink - try smoking outside in -25 degrees - you soon buck the habit or paying inexcess of 20 pounds for an 8 min taxi ride home after a night on the beer.

There are no free perscriptions with on my last trip costing 60 pounds for two perscription, oh and it costs 20 pounds to see a local doctor, although out patients is still free.

I just guess we like to look after ourselves a little bit better over here and save our money....

  • 23.
  • At 09:20 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • John wrote:

Completely echo an earlier comment- Cameron's "big comeback" smacks of desperation and blatant hypocrisy. He plays the sanctimonious card over "yobbish" violence and then uses the phrase "bare-knuckle fight" Unbelievable. This use of violent language shows staggering contempt for the electorate and displays an alarming level of hypocrisy for a leader of a political party.If Nick Griffen used this sort of language we all know how that would be covered in the press and rightly so. As for the list of NHS trusts, is that going to be referred to as his "dodgy dossier" from now on? It certainly should be.

  • 24.
  • At 09:41 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Ian Wood wrote:

If the Tories can't get basic facts right when they don't even have the pressures of Government then they have not even passed the first test of being fit for Government.

As for the facts themselves, can the moaners and groaners please say where there is an equivalent NHS that provides better care, in all areas of treatement, at the same price?

Moreover, the regional variations of cancer within the UK demonstrates that life style choices have more to do with rates of cancer than investment. Is it really a surpise that Sweden is healthier than Scotland when the latter has high numbers of smokers and the least healthy eating habits in Europe.

  • 25.
  • At 10:12 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Dr Peter Davies wrote:

Hospital closures are planned. The denials may well turn out to be hollow. And it may be death by a department here and there, rather than a striaght hospital closure.

The NHS is facing huge changes, not wanted by either staff or patients, and rarely decided in any democratic or representative way.

Cameron is right to highlight this issue. NHS is a new Labour disaster zone.

It was interesting a year ago when Oliver Letwin outlined Tory plans for a huge increase in the use of private companies in healthcare provision. Letwin said the Tories would have ?no hang-ups? about use of the private sector in healthcare.

Asked if there would be any limits, he said: "No limits, no. Let the commissioning bodies decide where patients can best be cured. If people can provide services under the NHS which are good services ? social enterprises, private bodies or NHS foundations ? if they can satisfy the commissioners within the NHS that the best way is through them, then they should be part of the show."

Cameron's rather quiet about this now.

  • 27.
  • At 10:33 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

First it was the scurrilous MMR vaccine scare that showed the Tories saying they would offer single jabs for kids as a matter of choice - flying in the face of good medicine - denying good science - all for what they saw as knocking publicity and a great bandwagon to roll aboard.

The Conservative party has yet to apologise for their part in promoting the anti-MMR rumours (the ideas of a discredited quack) that have resulted in the first deaths from childhood diseases in a generation.

Too much to expect them to get the hospital reorganisation story right, naturally.

  • 28.
  • At 10:37 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Simon Peck wrote:

The problem is that David Cameron is not back in charge. He never was in charge of anything. His hallmark as leader of the opposition has been facile, shallow, trite, politically correct drivel. Now I suspect that he has finally come to understand that his "modernised" party have nothing whatsoever to offer, and are facing a complete electoral disater he tries to come up with something new. The problem is he can't even get that right.

Sad for those of us who do not like new Labour.

  • 29.
  • At 11:17 PM on 21 Aug 2007,
  • Steve West wrote:

Whats with all these posts above? 'Stunts' like visiting hospitals? you are joking right? He's a politician who wants to raise awareness of the poor state of the NHS, you people should give him a chance. Short term political capital? Hes making a POLICY POINT on the NHS, and has been saying the same thing for a year plus now. The PR tag is a Labour gimick that party supprters wheel out whenever they sense Cameron might be about to deliver a direct hit.

  • 30.
  • At 04:33 AM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • Ahmad wrote:

Each NHS Trust usually runs more than one Hospital. So when there is talk of "consultation", the process is not about whether an Hospital loses a service but about which Hospital of the Trust loses which service.
I agree with the Tories highlighting the issue. But I am afraid it does not seem to affect people's opinion and the Tories are simply unable to take advantage of any of the mismanagement of Labour, because people feel satisfied with the way Labour is running the Economy.
The only thing that could save the Tories is if Labour makes some huge blunders.

  • 31.
  • At 07:55 AM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • John Francis wrote:

I live in Portsmouth - our hospital is safe because we have a marginal but all the surrounding Conservative areas are losing the small hospitals... Haslar (Gosport) is going, Emsworth is shut, Littlehampton demolished,Crawley A+E lost.

The A+E's of the following District Hospitals ARE officially under review...

Guidford, Chichester , Worthing, Hayward's Heath.

Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton are already overwhelmed and cannot take any more patients.

YET The Great clunking fist can spend Ł20 BILLION on a computer system that does not work. I know Wessex spent Ł70 million on a system that did not even leave the box.

Shame on you Labour. Even more shame on you BBC. If you don't let the Conservatives put this case someone else will... the issue will not go away. I speak as the father of two children rushed to hospital with asthma attacks.

Why should Tories pay their licence fee is it is to be used for propaganda like this?

  • 32.
  • At 08:07 AM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • jim evans wrote:

This time in our history will go down as the time Britain lost its common sence. This is not about rationalisation of the NHS, or making it more efficient.Not in the eyyes of the general public anyway, politicians,have imposed efficientcy cuts on the NHS, and the only way they can deliver is to cut costs, and the golden hand shake at the end if the Chief Executives and the PCT managers are successful they get one huge Bonus.The other point regards NHS funding is that the overhaul budget for the NHS, looses effectiveness due to the fact before any money is put into clinical and medical services, Salaries, wages, and PENSIONS get the most of the Budget, and here lies the answer, get rid of duplicated staff and pfi, then things will change.


This reminds me of the Rose Addis affair, doctors and spokesmen denying the truth, the media lapping it up, but the truth coming out after the media circus has moved on.

In fact it’s amazing how similar the rhetoric that is being used is.

Isn't it your job to check the facts, not just repeat things?

  • 34.
  • At 10:13 AM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • AMJ wrote:

On the Newslog 'David Cameron: Day One' with repect to hospitals I wondered 'the David Cameron Conservative Party wouldn't be spreading mis-information,would they' Now we have the answer, yes they would and by the document they released they are.

Many times David Cameron said, leave it to the experts, the doctors and nurses they know what is good for the patient. Now he is takeing a populist and centralist line, all local General Hospitals will remain open even if its against the recommendations of the experts, the doctors and nurses. How's that for a top down command when even the Labour government has delegated re-organisation to the local health board.

Team Cameron have shown themselves, at best, to be a bunch of ill-mannered amatures. So concerned were they to grab a headline they didn't even check the accuracy of the published document, that's apart the ill-manners of not consulting the Health Trusts and their own backbench MP's. Does Mr Cameron not realise that every word and statistic in all published documents are poured over and over by friend and foe alike.

As far as a bare knuckle fight goes Mr Cameron is not yet in the ring. He set out to attack Mr Brown yet as ended up defending himself against body blows thrown not by Mr Brown, but by the hospitals

  • 35.
  • At 12:55 PM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • Simon Christopher-Chambers wrote:

VoteDave said 'This is so typical of the liberal left media.
Never mind everything else David Cameron has done over the past two days - focus everything onto trivia like this.'

So those who support David Cameron think that misleading people is 'trivia' then?

  • 36.
  • At 12:56 PM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:


As predicted by me, the media, and many of your contributors have decided to resort to attacks on Cameron and the Conservatives because of alleged mistakes in their NHS list of threatened closures, and by default they are seen to be siding with the Labour / Trusts side of the argument.

Is it really the case that the media and the aforementioned contributors are happy to dismiss the Conservatives outright because of such minor failings, yet are happy to accept a government that lied to us on Iraq, and which has made huge blunders in other areas including immigration, criminal justice, IT innovation, etc? If so, I have lost faith in this country.

  • 37.
  • At 03:36 PM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

I know that in politics August is known as "Silly Season", but the Tories have brought new meaning to it! Please check your facts and not your imagination Mr C.!

  • 38.
  • At 06:54 PM on 22 Aug 2007,
  • Jeff Dugdale wrote:

Calling the disastrous CUTS in the NHS a 'reorganisation' is like referring to Hitler's invasion of Russia as a 'Vacation'.

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