Cameron’s NHS U-turn was not a choice but a necessity

David Cameron and his supporters have a tough sell on the NHS bill changes; they have another coalition u-turn written all over them.

This afternoon the NHS Future Forum reported on its proposed changes to the government’s NHS reforms. The exact details will take some time to unpick, however it appears the changes will be substantial.

It’s safe to say the spinning has already begun. Tomorrow it will intensify. At every opportunity expect to hear Tory frontbenchers praising their leader for listening to the public and responding; however, David Cameron and his supporters will have a tough sell. The government’s actions smell like, walk like and talk like yet another u-turn.

This is by no means the government’s first emergency maneuver. We can all remember the forests fiasco, the free school milk problem and the controversial plans to halve prison sentences for guilty pleas. All of these were scrapped following public outcry and political pressure. It appears that Mr Cameron is moving from being a listening prime minister to a lost one.

The prime minister will have a tough time convincing people his imminent NHS u-turn was merely his government listening and responding. Mr Cameron and his party have pressed hard for these reforms and they continue to, even when it appears futile.

The government’s commitments to these plans have been long standing. A quick glance at the coalition’s Programme for Government shows that even when it was in its infancy this administration planned to:

“Develop Monitor into an economic regulator that will oversee aspects of access, competition and price-setting in the NHS.”

Although the finer details escaped most people’s attention early on, it did not take long for the opposition to heat up. The media flocked to watch the BMA pass a motion of no confidence in the government’s plans and watched as the Health secretary narrowly avoided the same fate.

What was the government’s response? They did not waver they powered on brushing the criticism aside, stating:

“The reality is over 5,000 GP practices, covering two thirds of the country, have already signed up and have started to implement plans to give patients better care.”

This ignored the fact that their hand was forced. Many of these GPs still opposed the government’s plans for the NHS.

It did not begin and end with that. When the prime minister launched the listening exercise just two months ago he stated in his concluding remarks:

“I believe passionately in the changes we have set out.”

These are hardly the words of a man stopping to listen and reflect.

Even as the “pause” comes to an end this week Mr Cameron’s party rank and file are starting to stamp their feet. The 1922 Committee has come out of the gates all guns blazing today, condemning the Future Forum’s suggestions before they had even heard them. Conservative MP Nick De Bois, who is acting as the committee’s spokesperson on the NHS reforms, continued to defend the reforms today, saying:

“It is critical to the future of the NHS that the main pillars of the reforms are kept in place because we are talking about the future of our health service here.”

Even when the government is at the gates of defeat they appear to keep on fighting.

As the prime minister puts the NHS reforms into reverse gear him and his supporters will wriggle and squirm while emphasizing their credentials as “listeners”.  However it will not have escaped most people’s attention that the Conservative Party has been vociferously fighting for these reforms.

They proposed them, they closed their ears to professional criticism, their leader is passionate about them and their backbenchers are still fighting for them.

It is clear that the prime minister’s u-turn is not happening because he wants it to it is happening because it has to. Mr Cameron has no choice but to back track but he must not be allowed to distance himself from the truth – he supported these reforms as much as anyone else.

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