15 July 2010

The mask slips for a moment

A hit, a palpable hit. So well done to Ms Harman for poking a gaping hole in that facade of pleasant omniscicnce which Cameron so often exhibits at PMQs.

She asked the question, plain and simple:
This week the Government published their White Paper on the national health service. They say that they will get rid of targets. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether patients will keep their guaranteed right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks of seeing their GP?
Source: here

Cameron, clearly unprepared, had to flannel:
As for the NHS, what we have decided is that we will keep targets only when they actually contribute to clinical outcomes. We all want to see a higher cancer survival rate. I am afraid that, after 13 years of Labour government, we have not the best cancer outcomes in Europe, and we want the best cancer outcomes. That means rapid treatment, yes, but it also means rapid follow-up, and it means people getting the radiotherapy, chemotherapy and drugs that they need. Those are all essential.
Our Harriet asked the question again. Cameron still flannelling:
For some people, two weeks is too long. That is the whole point. If a target contributes to good clinical outcomes, it stays; if it does not, it goes.
So Cameron has been trapped. Either he does not know the answer or he is not prepared to admit that the target will be dropped. Either way, a victory for Hattie.

The Guardian notes that, subsequently, an obsequious junior minister tries to clarify the position:
An hour after Cameron's comments in the Commons, the health minister Simon Burns said the cancer target would remain. "The decision on targets was taken on which ones were not clinically justified," he told Radio 4. "The cancer one was clinically justified and is being kept."
Not quite accurate, it appeared:
But a few hours later the prime minister's spokesman declined to say whether the cancer guarantee would be maintained. "These decisions are no longer for politicians, they are now for the NHS commissioning board. So whether or not there is a target on two weeks is a matter for the commissioning board of the NHS. At the moment it remains in place, but whether it remains in place in future is a decision for them."
So the Tories have chosen to devolve the decision on the cancer guarantee to a quango. Welcome to the new improved NHS?

Background Note

None of the above applies to Scotland where, thank goodness, the health service remains under the watchful control of Nicola and the apparatchiks of the Scottish Government.

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