WHAT THE MEDIA SAY: A cautionary response to NHS reforms

Organisation: Government

Issue: NHS reform

Despite the plethora of commentators who contributed to the debate over

the Government's planned reform of the National Health Service and the

variety of criticism that emerged, an uneasy consensus emerged:

'Cautious welcome for move to cut surgery delays' (The Independent,


All agreed that the NHS has been grossly underfunded and that current

standards of healthcare, pressure on health workers and waiting times

for patients were unacceptable. The consensus broadly welcomed the use

of non-NHS resources to combat waiting lists and improve patient access

to services.

The scheme was not without its critics. The public health unions were

unhappy at the alleged betrayal of NHS workers, 'NHS union declares war

over BUPA deal' (The Independent, 5/12).

The British Medical Association, while welcoming the new measures as a

short-term solution to the current health crisis, questioned the

long-term cost to the NHS, when core investment was desperately


The opposition parties highlighted the undisclosed cost to the tax-payer

and alleged U-turns in Labour policy. Even some Labour backbenchers

shuffled uncomfortably.

The biggest failure of the Government's health reform announcement was

the apparently waning power of Number 10's spin machine. 'Spin doctors

failed to cure health concerns', headlined The Times (5/12).

The timing of the announcement proved crucial. Health unions took

affront at the news of new public-private-partnerships in healthcare

provision on the day set aside for the 'celebration of public


Similarly, the 'radical' reform package utilising non-NHS resources,

appeared to contradict the underlying message presented in Gordon

Brown's Pre-Budget Report, which highlighted so-called 'Old' Labour

values of supporting the NHS through a possible rise in taxation.

The result was further speculation of a rift between Tony Blair and

Gordon Brown and a drift away from ideological certainty of Labour


The Daily Telegraph highlighted the 'discord at the heart of

government ... confusion in the mind of new Labour' (7/12). A Labour

team that is supposed to be so expert at spin has tripped itself up over

an announcement of real substance.

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