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David Cameron’s new, tougher love for the NHS

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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