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By Peter Hoskin
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Back in the days
before the Coalition, there was always a sense that David Cameron’s love for
the NHS was unconditional. Sure, he’d criticise the health service from time to
time, but the basic thrust of his policy was exemplified by that election
slogan, “I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS”. His emphasis was largely on protecting
the providers, not the patients.

But now, it
seems, that relationship is changing. The Tory leader will today announce a new
package of measures, all of which carry an implicit message for the NHS: “Buck
up, now.” The Daily Mail contains a particularly
full account
of the package, but some of the standout measures include an
obligation on nurses to carry out hourly rounds of their patients, and a plan
to ask patients a single question — “Would you recommend the service to friends
and family?” — about the care they receive at all levels, from GPs surgeries to
district hospitals. It’s not yet certain whether the answers from these
inquiries will be published online, but they could be.


And, what’s
more, there will be nothing implicit about Mr Cameron’s rhetoric. One line that
has been released from his statement in advance is that, “We still have a long way to go to raise standards
across the NHS and get rid of those cases of poor and completely unacceptable
care that blight some hospitals and homes.”

Strikingly,
all of this mirrors the approach that Jeremy Hunt has taken since his ascension
to the role of Health Secretary. Mr Hunt has, on several occasions, attacked
the poor — sometimes disgusting
— levels of care that persist in several corners of the NHS. And he has strongly
advocated the passage of power to patients, particularly through technology, including
in an article
for ConservativeHome
. Indeed, I recently cited Mr Hunt’s efforts in a post
about the resuscitation of the “Post-Bureaucratic Age”.

Hence why
the Economist claims, in an article published
today
, that Mr Hunt has been “styling himself a patients’ champion” — and
now it looks as though the Prime Minister is following suit. This is an
important development. As Tim noted earlier this week, in his post offering eight
pieces of New Year advice
to David Cameron, the upcoming report into the
deaths at Mid Staffordshire hospitals may be a pivotal moment. Patients could
be looking around for a champion or two.

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