GOODNESS knows how flummoxed Theresa May would have become if she had attracted the same aggressive questioning from Andrew Marr as was directed at Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth.
Despite Marr’s kid gloves treatment, the Prime Minister still resembled a rabbit caught in the headlights as she attempted to defend the shambles to which her government has reduced the NHS, especially in England.
Her efforts to justify inadequate investment in the NHS were pitiful, as she bleated: “You keep talking about the money but actually what you also need to look at is how the NHS works, how it operates.”
This is the standard Tory approach to our health service — deny it necessary funding before throwing your hands up and saying it isn’t working, we need another model.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s obsession has always been about making savings or, more honestly speaking, spending cuts.
May’s floundering performance degenerated to referring to the cancellation of tens of thousands of clinical procedures booked for January as “part of the plan.”
Backed up against the wall, she bleated that “nothing's perfect and there is more for us to do.”
If elderly patients dying at home as they wait for an ambulance, lying in ambulances outside hospitals to be admitted or spending hours on trolleys in hospital corridors had just sneaked up and caught the system unawares, she might have a case, but they aren’t.
Health professionals, trade unions and Labour’s shadow health secretary have warned for months that a crisis was just round the corner.
Ashworth demanded £500 million for a winter bailout in September, stressing that it was Labour's “ambition” to return NHS funding increases to those of the 1997-2010 Labour governments when the annual spending increment was 4 per cent.
This would be a major step forward, although health professionals and NHS campaigners were critical of Labour’s addiction to wasteful private finance initiative mechanisms to fund NHS development and to schemes facilitating private sector penetration.
The shadow health secretary warned against May adopting a “head in the sand” attitude to the possibility of a serious flu outbreak that could lead to a “collapse” with thousands waiting longer for accident and emergency treatment.
Both May and Hunt have plumped for the ostrich-like position, so the problems outlined can only be laid at their door.
Yet the likelihood is that the PM will promote the Health Secretary to replace her “right-hand man” Damian Green as first secretary of state, which would exemplify both the lack of talent in her Cabinet and her intention to carry on as before.
May’s comments on fox hunting — namely that her views on reversing its ban haven’t changed but she must listen to the public — indicate that, if she or her successor ever commanded a large majority in the Commons, the Tories would return to the policies carried in their election manifesto but were forced to drop after squeaking through last June.
She alluded to them today, from tuition fees to dementia tax, slashing free school meals and diluting state pension guarantees, reminding us what the Tories might do unrestricted.
The PM also confirmed by her silence that rail privateers Virgin and Stagecoach have escaped scot-free from their commitment to pay the Treasury £3.3 billion before walking away from the East Coast mainline franchise.
Still the same old nasty party, squeezing the NHS, mollycoddling the private sector and determined to undermine our welfare state.
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