Tracking the reshuffle

21 October 2013, Blog

Now that the dust has settled after the latest reshuffle, can we draw any conclusions on how the change of personnel might affect the policy debate in the run up to the next election?

Let’s take healthcare where the most interesting reshuffle story was actually the lack of a shuffle for Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary. Many had tipped him to lose his job – as Health Secretary under the last Labour Government he had come under fire for not apologising for mid-Staffs and other ‘health scandals’ that happened on his watch. Rumours also suggested that, over the summer, Mr Burnham was concerned about Labour’s “direction of travel” under Ed Milband.

So why did he keep his job? Well partly Miliband was determined not to give the Tories the sacking they wanted. But more fundamentally it is down to the policy agenda that Burnham is scoping out. His vision of a truly integrated health and care system is backed by an independent commission – led by Sir John Oldham to suggest policies – means that Labour will go into the next election with a radically different stance on the future of the NHS and social care. Given that the NHS has undergone such major upheaval in recent years, it will require an experienced politician – who knows the NHS inside out – to convince the public that Labour’s plans will lead to better patient care. Step forward Mr Burnham.

Of course the debate about integration, and how it can be delivered, will rumble on over the next 12-18 months. For example, Health and Wellbeing Boards, which were designed to deliver joined-up and co-ordinated services when they were established as part of the Health and Social Care Act, have come under increasing scrutiny for not making sufficient progress.  These Boards were intended to provide local authorities with a much greater input into the planning and oversight of local health services. Given all the other pressures on local authorities it is perhaps not a surprise that these Boards are not top priority. Perhaps if Mr Burnham’s plan for integrated health and care budgets end up as a reality post 2015 these Boards will assume greater importance. 

James Turgoose oversees the political and public affairs work at JBP. He is experienced at devising, and implementing, political communications programmes as well as producing a wide variety of briefing papers on political developments. He is a regular commentator on political issues and has spoken at briefing events around the country since the Coalition Government was formed.

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