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Former health secretary calls for 'sunlight' in Tory health policy

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The most recent Conservative health secretary has said Andrew Lansley must articulate a clearer and more inspiring vision of the Conservatives plans for the health service.

Stephen Dorrell, who was health secretary from 1995 to 1997, told HSJ there needed to be “a little sunlight” in Conservative health policy over the next six months.

Speaking at an NHS Confederation fringe event at the Conservative conference last night, Mr Dorrell set out his own views on the need for NHS reform and said an incoming Conservative government next year would enjoy a significant opportunity for public service reform.

He said: “Between now and next June we must seize the opportunity to make the case for reform of the heath service to make it better achieve its objectives.”

Audience members were surprised Mr Dorrell did not mention the current Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley once in the course of his speech.

Asked if Mr Lansley was offering a strong enough vision of the health service under a Conservative government Mr Dorrell told HSJ: “Yes I do, although the challenge is to make it clear.”

“What I describe as the need for a little sunlight; that’s the challenge for the next six months.”

Stephen Dorrell

“We want to see not so much a new idea but a clear view – I think Andrew has got it actually – it’s a more professionally led, less centrally driven, more localised, more flexible service. But it’s that which needs filling out.” 

Mr Dorrell’s remarks follow months of speculation over the safety of Mr Lansley’s position after he is said to have angered the Conservative leadership over his comments to the media in June about Conservative plans to cut spending in other public services in order to fulfil their pledge to protect the NHS budget.

Well informed sources told HSJ this week that David Cameron would not hear of moving Mr Lansley out of health.

Mr Dorrell is widely tipped to make a return to the Conservative front bench, but he told Nursing Times he was “definitely not” making a pitch for Mr Lansley’s job.

Asked if he would like the job, he answered: “David Cameron has made it crystal clear Andrew Lansley will be the next health secretary and in that role he will have my full support.

“The guy has done it for six years; he does understand the service. Andrew is respected in the service, he does know what he’s talking about and he has a clear idea of what he is trying to do.  But right across the public services, what we’ve got to have is a bit of sunlight.”


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