Andrew Lansley, MP for Cambridgeshire South and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, responds to the Government’s latest NHS review.

We all have a good reason to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the NHS
this week. In a society in which many institutions are weakened, the
social solidarity of the NHS has been a source of cohesion. Not just
because we’ve experienced it first-hand as patients – the majority of
us were born in an NHS hospital – but as stakeholders through the taxes
we pay. Even if we we’ve never been treated in the NHS, we probably
know at least one of the 1.3 million NHS staff who has dedicated their
professional lives to serving patients. In a way, the NHS belongs to us

This shared-ownership is mirrored in the political arena where
support for it has straddled political divides throughout history. The
NHS was introduced by Aneurin Bevan (a socialist) but the groundwork,
in the form of White Paper, came from Beveridge (a Liberal) and Henry
Willink (a Conservative) in Winston Churchill’s coalition Government.
David Cameron has made it clear in today’s Conservative Party, that in
respect of all Labour’s policies, we will give support when they do the
right thing and offer constructive criticism when they don’t. The
publication of Lord Darzi’s review yesterday, presents an opportunity to do

When I met Professor Ara Darzi, I was impressed by his clinical
expertise and passion for medical education. But no sooner was he
brought into Gordon Brown’s ‘Government of all the talents’ (Goat) then
it became clear that Labour were using him as a front for their
centripetal administrative agenda. In an unguarded moment, Alan Johnson
exposed as much when he said, “We don’t have a goat problem in this
department. Our goat (Lord Darzi) is tethered”.  How undermining and
how indicative of a Government that won’t relinquish control and trust
the professions. It’s a fault that courses through the heart of
“Darzi’s” proposals.

Just take a look at NHS London’s strategic plan – one of ten responses to the review from regional Strategic Health Authorities across the country – which proposes the introduction of 150 polyclinics in London. The 150 figure is plucked out of thin air, an arbitrary target which serves political ends. Policies should be designed to improve patient care, not fulfill a bureaucratic objective. That’s why we published a Green Paper last week that will allow NHS professionals to focus on the health outcomes of their patients, instead of targets which home in on one part of a patient’s care pathway at the expense of the rest of it. 

What matters to patients is the result itself, not how it is achieved. But Darzi’s review is centred on how NHS services should be managed rather than what they should achieve.  That said, we welcome certain developments which have been long overdue and which we have long called for, for example, the speedier assessment of drugs by NICE and encouraging charitable and voluntary organisations to provide NHS services. Perhaps these are a few welcome fruits of Lord Darzi’s clinical input.

I hope Labour’s more sensible policies will work, unlike so many of their good intentions in the past which have been suffocated by red tape and bureaucracy. The NHS is too important to be treated like a political football. We want the NHS to succeed in this Parliament, so it can do even better in the next – hopefully with a Conservative Government.

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