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Monday 21st May 2018

Is choice working in the NHS?

4th June 2009

Writing in Health Service Journal, Michael White assistant editor (politics) of The Guardian, puts a Conservative attack on the Health Secretary to the test.


Health Secretary Alan Johnson has been under attack from his Conservative shadow Andrew Lansley over his record in failing to close the health gap between rich and poor.

Johnson regards Lansley’s attack as “desperation,” while the BBC’s Nick Robinson perceived it as a pre-emptive strike on a health secretary viewed as a PM-in-waiting.

Ironically, between 1979 and 1997 the Tories did no better and their present policies appear to offer little change in that.

Yet the attack by Lansley on the issue of choice being allowed to atrophy was interesting enough for me call MPs across the party divide and find out what was happening in their constituencies.

The answers vary hugely.

Wyre Forest’s Richard Taylor found that while independent centres got the easier cases, more difficult and older patients were left to the nearest big NHS hospital.

In Reading, the attitude of Labour’s Martin Salter was simple: “People don’t want choice, they want a good local hospital.”

Tory chief whip Patrick McLoughlin also indicated that an eminent consultant in his patch felt that the NHS was always getting “dumped with the problems.”

But noting that voters rarely speak out when things go right he conceded he gets no complaints.

In the North East, Newcastle Central’s Jim Cousins says choice has proved “quite successful” in cutting long orthopaedic waiting lists and that on balance, competitive pressures have been positive.

He also detects a “shift back to the public sector” in health and education.


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