Emergency Target – The NHS, the soft underbelly of the Conservative Party
12 August 2014, Blog
Central to David Cameron’s efforts to detoxify the Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2010 election was his desire to demonstrate that the Tories could be “trusted” on the National Health Service. With frequent visits to hospitals, heartfelt descriptions of the care his late son, Ivan, received, combined with commitments to ring-fence the health budget went a long way in restoring the Party’s credibility on health.
There was, now rather infamously, his pledge against further “top-down” reorganisations and a dismantling of the target culture. Yet of course the NHS has in recent years been through one of its largest ever reorganisations and targets are back on the table.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently delivered a speech where he commended the “astonishing” improvements in the health service, despite the restrained budgets. He dedicated a significant chunk of his speech to the “evils” of target culture and the “perverse” effect they can often have. He then went on to introduce a target.
“I want the NHS to put particular focus on anyone who has been waiting more than 18 weeks since being referred for treatment, so have asked NHS England to commission 100,000 additional treatments over the summer including 40,000 additional inpatient admissions.”
As Mr Hunt said “Targets matter, but they should never be the only thing that matters.” The reason why they matter now, demonstrates the Government’s nervousness on the NHS. The Conservatives know they have the Labour Party ‘bang-to-rights’ on the economy, but they still consistently poll below Labour when it comes to trust on public services. The Health Secretary suddenly looking at a ‘non-target’ target demonstrates his desire to put the NHS on as strong a footing as possible going into 2015.
It is largely accepted in health policy circles that the NHS ‘dodged a bullet’ with last year’s mild winter. The predicted A&E crisis never came. However, winter 2014 is fast approaching – and the last thing the Coalition will want, a few months ahead of an election, are accusations that they haven’t done everything they could to avoid a crisis.
Watch this space.