By Peter Hoskin
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Whither Andrew Lansley? Half a year ago, as the Health Bill struggled to avoid the charnel house, this was one of the most urgent questions in town. Yet now barely anyone asks it at all. As Patrick Hennessey notes in his detailed overview of the latest reshuffle rumours and possibilities today, Mr Lansley is “now widely expected to stay as Health Secretary”. There are no signals from Downing Street that we should expect blood.
Of course, much of this will be down to factors outside of Mr Lansley’s direct control — such as No.10 not wanting to create the impression that it is going back on its health reforms. But it’s still a remarkable turnaround. The situation has gone from this website calling for the Health Bill to be dropped to, in today’s Mail on Sunday, the President of the Royal College of Surgeons backing the government’s changes to emergency care. It’s gone from Labrokes suspending betting on Mr Lansley being the next Cabinet ejectee to them now having him at a very comfortable 14/1. He always was resilient in opposition, but this is of a different order entirely.
This isn’t to say that Mr Lansley was right all along (I still think that he should have done more within the parameters of existing legislation), or that the Conservatives haven’t lost ground on the NHS (they have). But it does mean that we should start regarding the Health Secretary differently. He is no longer a man fighting for the survival of his Bill and his political career. He is instead a man who will (probably) get the chance to implement his policies over the next few years. This is a much quieter role, not least because the nature of those policies suggests that the Health Secretary will have to step back and leave the health trusts to get on with it — at least in some respects.
On this front, Mr Lansley might learn much from Michael Gove, who has had a two year head-start with his policies. One of the Education Secretary’s key functions now — besides pushing forward reform in other areas, such as exam standards — is as a facilitator. He highlights those schools, headmasters and teachers who are doing good work, in the hope that it becomes an example for others to follow. Along with organisations such as the New Schools Network, he connects people so that they might gain from each other’s expertise.
All of which may sound obvious — but more than one NHS manager I’ve spoken to has said that this sort of communication is rare in their realm. Hospitals, they claim, are too insulated from each other and too guarded about their advances. So whether it’s Hinchingbrooke or how a particular ward serves food to its patients, Mr Lansley might start joining the dots.