David Blackburn

Cameron must set out health plans

Cameron must set out health plans
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For some time now at Coffee House, we’ve questioned the sense of Cameron’s pledge to increase NHS spending in real terms. And in today’s Independent, a ComRes poll suggests that 62 percent of Tory MPs do not think the NHS should receive guaranteed spending increases. Indeed, their opposition to Mr Cameron’s plans runs deeper: only 33 percent believe the current model of care free at the point of delivery is sustainable. Additionally, the Independent quotes an anonymous Tory MP saying:

 "The hope is that we would be more radical on health in office than we say now, that he [Mr Cameron] is anxious not to frighten the horses. But there are concerns about cutting other areas and allowing the health budget to carry on rising regardless. It cannot be exempt from financial pressure or reform."

Regardless of the financial sense of these arguments, post-Hannan this poll is not encouraging for the Tory leadership, serving only to fuel Labour’s ‘the two-faces of the Tories’ campaign, which now seems a little more legitimate.

So how does Cameron defuse this? A u-turn on the spending pledge would make sense but is unlikely, not least because defending the NHS is at the heart of his political convictions. But though he faces opposition within his own party, Cameron has the support of the public. As he did with green issues, crime and the presentation of the Tory party, Cameron needs to sell this idea to his MPs. Cameron must set out a detailed plan of how he intends to fund and reform the NHS, something they have conspicuously failed to do. When confronted by the mess he will inherit (if he wins), he may find his plan undeliverable, which will be embarassing, but not fatal. However, not developing a clear health policy less than a year before an election is a dangerous omission, bordering on complacency.