MHP's Mike Birtwistle slams NHS 'listening exercise'

A senior healthcare comms professional has said that David Cameron and Nick Clegg are 'kidding themselves' if they expect their 'listening' exercise around NHS reforms to win critics over.

Critical of 'listening' process: Mike Birtwistle
Critical of 'listening' process: Mike Birtwistle

Following growing criticism, the Prime Minister confirmed last month that the Health and Social Care Bill would be delayed while ministers considered the reforms. But Mike Birtwistle, head of MHP's health practice, told PRWeek that Cameron and Clegg were wrong to think that the opposition to NHS reform could be quelled by a short break in the process.

He said: 'If the listening exercise is a PR stunt then it is very bad strategy. The only thing the pause has achieved is to elevate the issue to the front pages, giving it far greater salience with the public. Far from quietening things down, this strategy has only succeeded in making health even more noisy.'

Labour leader Ed Miliband has criticised the reforms as 'extremely dangerous', while shadow health secretary John Healey has branded them an 'expensive PR stunt'.

Clegg defended the listening process last week, telling patients that the pause in passing the legislation was 'not a gimmick'.

He said: 'Let me stress this, it's not a PR exercise. We'll make significant and substantive changes to the legislation.'

However, Birtwistle said that 'structural upheaval is already under way and cannot be undone'.

The MHP health chief added: 'The debate on competition in health has rumbled on for over a decade, so a couple of extra months is unlikely to make the difference.'

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