George Eustice: NHS story needs clear treatment

Parliament is now in recess, but before the end of term there was time for health secretary Andrew Lansley to go to the dispatch box and strike a more conciliatory tone on the Government's health reforms, in a bid to calm nervousness in some quarters of the coalition.

There is no doubt Lansley understands the challenges facing the NHS. He shadowed the health portfolio for more than five years and spent the time relentlessly meeting doctors and health professionals. You need someone like that in the role because the NHS is an incredibly complex organisation and any policy you introduce has a tendency to produce unintended consequences.

But getting the right comms strategy for the health service is not easy either. The danger of getting bogged down in technical acronyms and jargon, fit only for consumption by managers in the middle of the system, is high: NICE, Monitor, the Care Quality Commission, Foundation Trusts, Health and Wellbeing Boards, Commissioning Boards ...

The list goes on and on. The other problem with health is that, before you realise it, you end up saying bland things like: 'We are going to have an evidence-based approach.' Has no-one thought of that before?

Someone with Lansley's knowledge is in danger of being caricatured by opponents as not seeing the wood for the trees. How should he deal with this line of attack?

First, any comms strategy must highlight at every opportunity the simple fact that NHS spending is increasing in real terms every year. The Conservatives were the only party to pledge this at the last election but you wouldn't think so now, given the coverage the Government is receiving for its NHS policies.

Second, there must be a bonfire of the acronyms, which should be replaced by two or three clear propositions. For example, spending less on managers means more money on the front line. A helping hand from private providers cuts waiting times. Doctors know what's right for their patients. Get this right, and we might be able to improve the NHS and save some lives. George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron

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