The shadow health team are concerned the NHS is being put through “the biggest upheaval in 60 years” and say they will be watching the government closely.
On Tuesday night, a group of health journalists and I shared an audience with John Healey MP and his shadow health team. By the looks of things, they are settling nicely into the position of being in opposition, taking the topic of challenging everything the government suggests very seriously. The NHS is going through its biggest changes since its inception, so health must be top of the opposition’s to-do lists, or rather to-challenge lists.
“We will hold them hard to account for what they say they will do and what they actually do,” said Healey. He criticised the government for falling well short on a number of promises that it had made already, such as protecting funding for the health service and improving cancer care.
His biggest criticism, though, was for putting the NHS through “the biggest upheaval in 60 years” when the finances “couldn’t be tighter”.
Healey revealed grave concerns about bringing in an “untested system at breakneck speed”.
Many healthcare professionals we have spoken to are equally concerned about the pressure to start implementing change so fast - even though changes must be in place by 2013, many are keen to get structures in place sooner rather than later and feel the impetus is on them to do so.
The government may be painting this as a land of opportunity, but many in the healthcare sector feel that they don’t have a map to help them navigate it. And some are also concerned about the language being used by politicians about PCTs, many of whom they feel have done a fantastic job. And many of them have done a fantastic job in doing exactly what the white paper seems to be wanting - services commissioned at local level for the good of the patient, with a real understanding of what’s needed, and with an eye on both outcomes and the till.
The feeling that the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater is frightening some PCTs, which feel they have accomplished much, and their achievements are being rubbished.
“First and foremost, we want to be there for patients,” said Healey on Tuesday night. And I’d imagine that is the mantra of everyone working in the health service.